Orange, pride of Manipur’s Tamenglong faces multiple threats

BY URMILA CHANAM & CO
TAMENGLONG, 6th Dec: Tamenglong is not only the largest producer of oranges in Manipur, contributing over 50 per cent of the state’s annual production of nearly 10,000 to 11,000 metric tonnes, but is also believed that oranges found in Tamenglong are one of the best qualities in the world.
In 2014, then Chief Minister O Ibobi declared that oranges found in Manipur would be known as ‘Tamenglong mandarin’ during the 11th State Level Orange Festival held in Tamenglong. Some call it Tamenglong Orange. Both these names indicate the orange variety which is being cultivated widely in the district.
There are also reports of existence of another variety in Tamenglong known as ‘Citrus indica’ commonly known as Indian Wild Orange and is considered to be the most primitive of all cultivated citrus fruits in the world and endemic to northeast India.
When contacted along with three other Tamenglong based journalists - Agui Kamei, Ringbam Kamei and KC Hubuanang, Director/CEO of Rain Forest Club, an NGO working on environment conservation and wildlife protection in the district, Mordecai Panmei attributed the good harvest and quality of orange in Tamenglong to availability of this ancient orange species and informed that Citrus indica is the parent species of the modern day Tamenglong Orange.
Oranges and its cultivation are far beyond horticulture or income generation vocation for the people living in Tamenglong.
For Kahulong village chief, Thiujinang Gonmei (63); who has been into orange cultivation for 15 years, the best moments in his life were to witness oranges growing on trees he planted after waiting for seven years.
Seventy-five years old Jangdimang Gangmei of Khongjaron village brightened up when he talked about his orange orchards and recounted that he planted 5000 forest trees in a hill range in his village in Tamenglong in an effort to undo the ill effects of deforestation and displacement of wild life.
There are families with more than five generations who have been engaged in orange cultivation and own familial and community wisdom of best practices and observations that spans over hundreds of years.
These farmers are also engaged in planting other fruits and vegetables besides oranges and in jhum or slash and burn cultivation while they also serve as foot soldiers for forest and horticulture programmes. In a discussion with a diverse age group (24-86 years) of orange growers in Chaengdai village about 12 km from Tamenglong district headquarter, it was found that farmers take immense pride in carrying on the tradition of orange cultivation but there is a rising fear from how orange trees have started decaying in the last 20 years and the uncertainty of the underlying cause. As per this cohort of orange growers, in every 10 orange trees planted, close to three are drying up.
An orange grower with 150 trees and a family into orange cultivation for four generations observed that the orange fruitage 40 years back used to be so abundant that branches of the orange trees would have to be supported by sticks. Additionally, the lifespan of orange trees used to be as long as 100 years in contrast to the current orange trees that just live for 6-10 years at the maximum.
The collective observed the symptoms of a dying orange tree include shrinking and drying of its leaves, an extremely sour orange fruit and appearance of a white or yellow coloured powdery substance adhering to its leaves. Appearance of a thick insect that infects the base of the tree trunk and another insect that hollows the fruit have been noted as the possible cause of drying up of orange trees. The orange growers have all experienced this disease in their orange trees, have made individual attempts to contain it but not succeeded to save their orange trees.
The income that orange cultivation used to fetch for families has also plummeted down over the years with few orange farmers as exception. The income is anything between Rs 2000-70,000 per annum depending on the harvest and marketing.
A thorough scientific study needs to be done by renowned horticulturists from universities to try and find a solution to save the orange trees.
The district’s Assistant Soil Conservation Officer, Anwar Hussain informed that this mass drying up of orange trees is called Citrus decline or ‘dieback’ caused due to abiotic factors like long spell of rains, rain-fed cultivation, non-adoption of soil and water conservation and nutrient deficiencies that arise due to the age of the orange plant and biotic reasons like uncertified planting materials, poor orchard management, improper pruning, excessive bearing and poor insects and disease management.
The solutions offered by the government include production of quality planting materials, proper site selection, systematic planting, proper manure application schedule, better orchard management practices, and adoption of soil and water conservation measures besides plant protection.
An orange farmer can also apply for rejuvenation of orchard under the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture with submission of land ownership certificate, passport photographs, and copies of Aadhaar card and bank passbook to the District Officer, Tamenglong. Applications for accessing the scheme may also be submitted by farmers online on www.hortnet.gov.in.
The point of consideration is how the major stakeholder department is disseminating its knowledge and instructions to farmers and orange growers with respect to disease management in the orange trees, accessing schemes to enhance their horticulture and agriculture efforts. The cohort of orange farmers in Chaengdai village and others in Kahulong, Khangchiuluan, Khongjaron village would have definitely benefited from government advice and dialogue. Schemes have no relevance till the common (wo)man is reached, supported and empowered through them. Civil society and NGOs could play a major role in bridging this gap by assisting the government to reach the community and help in accessing these schemes.
Other challenges and barriers in orange cultivation are marketing also related to poor road conditions, lack of transportation of oranges to market place, overcoming sales in distress, absence of cold storage facilities, no food processing units, lack of research and targeted efforts to identify bottle necks and link them to solutions and innovations. The government of Manipur has been trying to install cold storage facilities since many years, the challenge being it requires 24 hours power supply while Tamenglong faces acute power shortage. Additionally, the orange growers have to produce larger quantity of oranges for the government to look at cold storage and food processing units.
The 15th State Level Orange Festival is a conscious effort to begin a movement to conserve ‘Citrus indica’, enhance Tamenglong mandarin production, link agriculture and horticulture institutions to farmers to facilitate knowledge translation and best practices, to invite involvement and interest of experts from different fields with an objective to boost farmer income and economy of the district.
The countdown has begun. In just three days, Tamenglong will host the annual farming festival in its district headquarters at Lower Ground.


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