Millennium Post

Imported apple cultivars pest-free: Himachal minister

The Himachal Pradesh government on Sunday said transparent international guidelines have been followed to rejuvenate its Rs 3,500-crore fruit industry and the imported apple cultivars were tested pest and disease-free.

A World Bank-funded Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Development Project is being implemented in the state with an outlay of Rs 1,115 crore, mainly to protect apple cultivation, a government official said.

The project spread over seven years would focus on providing new technologies to horticulturists for increasing crop productivity and capacities.

For the import of planting material, transparent and fair World Bank procedure and guidelines have been followed and quantum of import was as per project implementation plan approved by the government and the World Bank, an official statement quoting Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes said.

The government's assertions come in the wake of reports that some of the cultivars have tested positive for virus, especially those imported from Italy.

Import was made as per the Plant Quarantine (Regulation of Import into India) order 2003 and import permit issued by the Union Ministry of Agriculture for the definite number of plants to be imported, the government said.

The World Bank funded project is being implemented through the Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Development Society for the long-term development of the horticulture sector through an integrated value chain approach.

Stokes, one of the prominent apple growers in the country, said the rejuvenation project has been designed to address key constraints like low productivity, lack of assured irrigation facilities, inappropriate agricultural research, high post-harvest losses, non-existence of micro, small and medium agro enterprises and fierce competition from international apples.

On landing, the planting material was sampled by the Regional Plant Protection Quarantine station of Indian government in Mumbai and also by state horticulture scientists, she said.

The plants were kept under the supervision of designated post entry quarantine authority for one year. The post entry quarantine final report was issued by the inspection authority on February 2 and as per report the planting material was found to be free from pests and diseases.

The minister said initially in Radlum Gala cultivar only five plants were observed to be exhibiting symptoms of systemic disease caused by phytoplasma. A few plants in another cultivar Granny Smith were also found to be carrying the virus.

She said a team of experts was constituted to draw samples and to get them tested from the lab. The analytical report did not support the previous results.

Stokes said after ascertaining that entire plant material was in good health and free from any harmful pathogen, it was decided to distribute the plants in identified clusters.

Till date 55,000 plants out of 61,000 have been sold to the farmers.

Himachal Pradesh is one of India's major apple producing states, with more than 90 per cent of the produce consumed in the domestic market.

The state's fruit economy is worth around Rs 3,500 crore a year, with apple alone contributing 89 per cent to this figure, mostly in Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur and Chamba districts.

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