3/26/2012 12:00:00 AM
Text and pix by Joshua Nicholas
Grapes are an icon of Jaffna agriculture, but the industry is struggling
under the weight of sweeter imported varieties. Cargills Agrifoods Ltd. and
USAID in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture distributed imported
grape rooted cuttings and hybrid vegetable seeds on Saturday in order to assist
After the war Cargills Agrifoods Ltd. and USAID set up the National
Horticultural Alliance Project (NHA) with the aim of 'improving the current
state of fruit and vegetable farmers and palmyrah tappers of the Northern
Province.' The program specifically wishes to enhance the income and
employability of the farmers and tappers. The total project investment is Rs.
222 million, with RS. 92.5 million from USAID and Rs. 129.5 million from
Since 2009, the NHA has commenced with a 'Need Assessment Study' to
farmers expectations and perceptions, has trained 1116 farmers and tappers in
the art of vegetable cultivation, and collated data in order to ascertain the
most desirable plants for the conditions and market.
The study identified the need for more desirable grape varieties and
better-suited hybrid vegetables. The two grapes varieties selected come from
India, Shanaka is black in colour and Sharad is pale yellow, both are seedless
and sweet, ideal for local consumption. It will be around a year before the
plants start bearing fruit, and they are expected to last for 10 to 12 years.
The three hybrid vegetables chosen are beetroot, cabbage and red radish, ideal
to grow in Jaffna's 'Calcic Red Yellow latosols' soil. Cargills
intends for this
to be a direct buyback arrangement, however farmers are free to sell their crops
to whomever they wish.
According to Cargills Agribusiness Director Consultant Dr. J. C. Katyal, the
project is following a horticultural value chain model, "intertwining
cultivation methods, value added processing and markets." "We are
to treat agriculture as a business," said Dr. Katyal, outlining the
given in creating business plans and farming procedures. "It is a cyclical
model," said Dr. Katyal, as both farmers and Cargills will remain in the
assisting each other.
The Governor of the Northern Province Major General A. Chandrasiri, handed
out the rooted grapes along with the packets of hybrid seeds and instructional
booklets on six important vegetable crops (bitter gourd, cabbage, green
chillies, tomato, carrot and brinjal) written in Tamil.
More than 1,200 rooted grapes were given out, with more likely on the way if
the project is successful. "This is another step we are taking
Governor Chandrasiri, adding, "the taste is sour at the moment, I am sure
in the next year we can change that."
"Once these varieties come successfully to bearing, it is likely to
the landscape of grape imports and income from grape cultivation. We expect
significant gain to farmers and tremendous saving in precious foreign
said Cargills Agribusiness Deputy General Manager Haridas Fernando.
Cargills has invested in a collection centre in Jaffna that has already
purchased 200 tonnes of produce from surrounding areas, and averages three
tonnes per day. Within four months a fruit and vegetable processing plant will
be set up in Kilinochchi, providing farmers with another avenue to sell their
wares, and directly employing more than 55 people.
According to Cargills Head of Vegetable Processing Unit Keerthi Gunasekara,
"The farmers themselves say the system has given them an additional gain of
25-35% over and above what they would have got had they sold the produce in a
local market." For their efforts, Cargills hopes to increase the
supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, and ensure a reliable supply of in-demand
domestically grown grapes.