With Christmas just days away, a peppy hill station of Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar is buzzing with tourist activity. Unlike previous years, though, this year the visitors are not taking in the sights: they are spending time at strawberry farms.
Mahabaleshwar is gaining a new identity — as a “strawberry-tourism destination” and a big exporter of the fruit.
"Last year, for the first time the farmers of Mahabaleshwar exported strawberries to European nations. Last year's exports were 900 tones; this year produce has just started coming in and we have received orders of about 1,000 tones from Belgium. We are expecting a 100 per cent rise in this year's exports,” said Krishna Bhilare, vice president, Indian Strawberry Growers’ association.
Last year’s crop of 14,000 tonnes is expected to be topped by a good measure this year, thanks to a combination of better climatic conditions, use of new technology and more farmers opting for strawberry.
More than 1,000 farmers this season planted strawberry on over 1500 acres of land in Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani.
Last year farmers exported strawberries to countries like France, Belgium, Dubai and Sri Lanka.
Strawberry grower Sunil Parate said, "We have been growing strawberries for 40 years. But the actual growth in production has come in the last three-four years after we opted for poly-house farming. The new breed of fruit also gives double output after sowing.”
The Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani belt region contributes over 85 per cent of the total strawberry production in India. The rest comes from regions like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Banglore.