Persimmon cultivation in Nagaland is about 15 years old. It is mainly grown in Pfutsero area. The popularity of the fruit is growing.
Not well known
A wedding on 16th October 2018 at Kohima must be the first time in Nagaland when persimmon was served as the main fruit item. Guests were curious and asked the name of the fruit and where it came from. This shows that the fruit is new in Nagaland and people are unaware that it is grown locally.
China, Japan, and Korea have been cultivating the fruit since prehistoric times. The fruit was introduced in India by Europeans in Kullu valley, Himachal Pradesh in 1921. But till date, the fruit is yet to realize its full potential commercially. In Nagaland, saplings were first brought to Pfutsero horticultural farm from Himachal Pradesh in 2003-04 by Horticulture Department, Government of Nagaland.
Cultivation of Persimmon
The most widely cultivated Persimmon is the Asian or Japanese persimmon Diospyros kaki. Farmers in India call it Japani Phal. Diospyros in Greek means ‘divine fruit’. In Kikruma village near Pfutsero, people call it ‘Adam’s apple’. It is commonly grown alongside apples in India in high altitude areas.
Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) recommends growing Persimmon in altitude of more than 1500 metres which includes areas like Pfutsero, Zunheboto, Longkhim, Aboi, etc. The deciduous persimmon trees go dormant in winter and can tolerate low temperature. They require 200-250 chilling hours. They can grow in almost all kinds of soil. The trees are relatively pest-free and require very less care.
Persimmons are propagated by grafting. Rootstock commonly used in India is an Indian persimmon variety called Amlook. In Nagaland also a local variety of wild persimmon is used. The fruits of the wild persimmon are smaller but look and taste similar to Japanese persimmon. The seeds are harvested in December and sown at the start of spring season. Grafting is done in the following years in the month of January. Japanese persimmon does not have seeds.
Grafted persimmons start to bear fruit by the 4th year and may take up to 7 years. Harvesting of fruit is done in October-November. It is best to allow fruits to turn yellow-orange or orange-red before harvesting. But Fuyu persimmon, the non-astringent variety can be eaten even when not fully ripe.
Persimmon trees can grow as tall as 70 feet. Branch pruning in winter is important because fruits are heavy and branches break off easily. During fruiting season, supports through props may be required to avoid branch breakage due to weight of the fruits. One tree can grow as much as 200 kgs of fruits.
There are about 2000 varieties of persimmon. But only two varieties of persimmons are commercially available, which are grown in Pfutsero area: Fuyu and Hachiya varieties.
Fuyu is the smaller variety which is tomato-shaped (flat top) and is non-astringent. Therefore it does not cause puckering of mouth or irritation of throat even when not fully ripe. It turns bright orange when fully ripe.
Hachiya is the bigger variety which is heart or papaya-shaped (pointed tip) and is the astringent variety. It has to fully ripen and become very soft (jelly-like consistency) before eating, or else it causes puckering of mouth.
Commercial potential of Persimmon
Persimmon is an acquired taste. That means although one may not like it at the beginning, appreciation of the taste will increase with time; or the taste for persimmon increases as one gets more exposure to it. And so, it is said that buyers anxiously wait at the market for the persimmon season: ‘Its admirers impatiently hang around fruit markets to discover its entry to gulp the fruit and enjoy the different delight, besides being full of fragrance and rich in sugar’ (Dr. Brajeshwar Singh et al, in ‘Cultivation of Persimmon in India’, Rashtriya Krishi).
In North India, when Apple harvest fails due to bad weather or pests, farmers compensate their loss through persimmon harvest because it is relatively pest-resistant and harvest is not affected by adverse weather. And so, farmers are increasingly taking up persimmon cultivation.
Persimmon, especially the Fuyu variety can be stored for few months at low temperature. Therefore, among all fruits, it is convenient for packing and transportation. Hachiya persimmons can also be dried, for example by tying peeled fruits on strings which are popularly known as hoshigaki in Japan.
The fruit sells at similar rates as apples in North India. In Pfutsero Horticulture farm, the rate is Rs. 150 per kg in 2018. At Kohima, it is sold at Rs. 200 per kg as wholesale, while retail may cost up to Rs. 350 per kilogram.
People are increasingly conscious about their health and persimmon has multiple health benefits. First, it is organic because growing it does not require any chemicals as it is relatively pest-free. Persimmon is a good source of Vitamin C and exceptionally high in Vitamin A. It has antioxidant properties and is a rich source of dietary fibre.
Business Standard website records that the demand for persimmon is increasing. Persimmon is a ‘luscious, sugary and jelly-soft exotic fruit, the colour varying from light yellow-orange to dark orange-red’. The appeal of an exotic fruit and the striking similarity to a ripe tomato make it visually appealing and increases it marketability.
Tsazu farm is a family farm belonging to Huchozu Tunyi of Kikruma village. It is located midway between Pfutsero and Kikruma village at an altitude of about 1800 metres. It has 400 persimmon trees. Twenty Fuyu variety and ten Hachiya variety persimmon trees have started bearing fruit. Presently the annual persimmon harvest is around 300 kgs. The farm provided the fruits for the wedding as mentioned above. Grafting was first done at the farm in 2011 with the help of labourers from government horticulture farm Pfutsero. In 2017, 700 grafted saplings from the farm were distributed to various villages in Phek district through Entrepreneurs Associates. Although the fruit is relatively new and not well known, the demand for the fruit and saplings is increasing even in Nagaland.
Huchozu Tunyi came to hear of Persimmon from a relative who told him of a good looking new fruit at Horticulture Farm, Pfutsero. He visited the farm and the fruit caught his attention because of the colour and the beauty of the fruit. That was the first time he saw persimmon. Although he knew nothing about the fruit until then, he was determined to cultivate it because of its beauty.
He requested the officer in-charge of the farm for saplings. Twenty five saplings were given to him out of which one died. The following year, seeds of the wild persimmon were collected and sown in his farm, from which grafted persimmons were propagated.
So, it wasn’t the taste of the fruit, the commercial potential, or the health benefits of Persimmon which inspired him to grow Persimmon. It was the beauty of the fruit. Later on, he requested his son to download internet resources on the fruit from which he learned the growing technique, uses, and health benefits of persimmon.
There were discouragements on growing persimmon in the beginning. An officer from the horticulture department advised him, ‘why do you want to grow this fruit which has no demand and cannot be presented on the dining table?’ He was advised to stick to kiwi plantation.
Also he faced discouragement from own family members who did not appreciate the taste, especially after experiencing the taste of astringent variety which puckers the mouth; and said that there is no market for the fruit. These factors disheartened him. He said the popularity of the fruit is just beginning, as people are starting to acquire the taste for persimmon and realize its health benefits. The demand for persimmon is growing. Perhaps it is a fruit whose time has come.
Two other major plants are grown in the farm: Kiwi and Taxus baccata (a medicinal plant). The farm harvests around 1000 kg of kiwi every year. Taxus baccata, commonly known as Yew is a plant from which Taxol is extracted which is used for making anticancer medicine. The farm has around 5000 Taxus baccata trees. This year, it is estimated that around 200 kg of dried leaves can be harvested from 40-50 trees. This is the second year of exporting cultivated Taxus baccata leaves after farmers in the subdivision acquired license from the Forest Department.
He plans to grow Paris polyphylla, another medicinal plant which is found naturally growing in the farm. But he has no plan to grow any other fruit than Persimmon.
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