Grape farmers in Mizoram are jubilant with the government's plans to set up wineries after amending a 10-year-old anti-liquor legislation enforced under pressure from the powerful church.
The Mizoram assembly last week amended the Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition (MLTP) Act of 1997 by making provisions to allow wine processing from grapes and guavas - two high value fruits grown abundantly in higher reaches of the state.
"Amending the act does not mean liberalisation of liquor, but simply excluding wine made of grapes and guavas. Now we plan to set up wineries by prescribing rules about alcohol content and other things for the benefit of the farmers," said Mizoram Horticulture Minister H Rammawi.
"Experts said wine made from grapes produced here could be easily marketed worldwide," Rammawi told.
"Considering the high returns, one can expect the rural economy to take a major leap forward if proper attention is given to grape and guava cultivation," the minister said.
Mizoram, bordering Myanmar and Bangladesh, known for its jagged peaks, lofty mountains and dense forests produces a premium variety of Lubrusca grapes. Wine made of it is said to be of high quality and commercially viable.
"We use to make wine using manually operated mixers and sell them locally as there was a ban on selling liquor. Now with the amendment in the act and the government planning to set up wineries we are sure to earn handsome profits," said P Sailo, a grape grower.
Sailo last year made a profit of Rs 250,000 selling grapes.
"Maybe the income will double once we have wineries here," a beaming Sailo said.
A total of 2,500 acres of land is under grape cultivation in a cluster of villages in Mizoram. Some 1,500 farmers have small to medium plantations with the total annual production estimated at about 1,500 quintals.
"The amendment would help the state generate more revenue now," said state Excise Minister Lalzama, who like many Mizos uses just one name.
Like Sailo, there are scores of farmers who are looking forward to having some local wineries where they can sell their produce.
"A winery would be the best option for farmers like us," another grape grower Rammhanghia said.
The Lubrusca is a hardy variety of grape that ripens mid to late in the season. With climatic conditions suitable for high quality yield with good returns, more and more farmers are setting up vineyards.
Some people make wine in a not too scientific manner for home consumption as well as for use as sacramental wine exclusively in churches.
As part of a plan to encourage farmers to shift from conventional farming to cash crop cultivation, the Mizoram government has started imparting scientific training to grape growers for quality yield.