Meghalaya, the scenic Northeast state offers more than its natural beauty and lush rolling hills that soothes the eye. For its certain agricultural features, Meghalaya’s pineapple sticks out among its many riches as a symbol of rich agricultural heritage and precise cultural practices.
Pineapples as fruit is suitable for cultivation in the cool subtropical and tropical climate of Meghalaya. The fruit grows well in areas such as Ri Bhoi, East Khasi, Garo Hills, in Meghalaya, as long as the temperatures are not extreme.
Meghalaya proudly produces over 8% of the entire pineapple production in India, making it a key player within the county’s agriculture map. This widespread per cent comes from two foremost specialised varieties: Giant Kew and Queen Pineapple. These varieties thrive in hilly areas of Meghalaya, with the help of age-old traditional cultural practices which are deeply rooted in local traditions.
The Kew variety of pineapples is renowned for its high Total Soluble Solid (TSS), which may even be 16 degree BRIX and above. Moreover, the state has reported production of 1,38,701 MT of pineapples in the year 2019-20. It is necessary to be mentioned that, while the production of pineapples has grown significantly over the years from a point as a kitchen garden produce to now being exported to many international markets. However, marketing of these produce is still a subject of concern.
Ri-Bhoi district ranks first in pineapple production in Meghalaya, accounting for 38 per cent of the state’s total pineapple production followed by West Garo Hills district. The well-structured pineapple farms here produce a big percentage of this delicious fruit, reflecting the local farmers’ commitment to preserving the precise characteristics of the pineapple.
The unique flavour of Meghalayan pineapple is certainly one of its many special characteristics. From a flavour point of view, this pineapple performs higher than many different types, with an average BRIX value of 16-18.
Most often, a Mauritius or MD2 variety pineapple from Kerala and Karnataka is 1.2kg/fruit. In contrast, Meghalayan Kew pineapples are physically smaller in size with an average of 800gms/fruit due to lack of replanting of suckers post 2-3 years of peak fruiting. However, this attribute also makes Meghalaya pineapples quite a choice for carrying or transporting to places conveniently.
Nutritionally, Meghalaya pineapple is a powerhouse. They are rich sources of vitamins A and C, potassium and essential nutritional fiber. This makes them a smart choice for the ones seeking flavour and nutrients at the same time in their diet.
Meghalaya pineapple is exceptional mostly not because of its natural habitat, but also due to the traditional and sustainable agriculture practices by the local farmers. The Meghalaya pineapples are produced by means of age-old organic agricultural practices, free from artificial fertilizers and insecticides use, as a result these pineapples incorporate very less metallic and pesticide residue.
The Organic process of farming increases their resistance, making them quite a low-maintenance fruit that requires less maintenance as compared to other varieties of pineapples.
Although, there lies a lot of challenges ahead in the path of making Meghalaya a pineapple production centre-hub not only nationally but internationally as well, a much progression has been achieved through persistent efforts by the Government of Meghalaya over the years.
Not only in Meghalaya but also in our country, the pineapple processing industry is still in its infancy. The following are the major restrictions in pineapple processing:
i) Expensive canning due to the high cost of fruit, sugar, containers, and overheads.
ii) Fruits are not always available throughout the year.
Challenges regarding production and maintaining the standard of fruit have been addressed by precision agriculture and by introducing tissue cultured varieties like MD2 exclusively for export and Mauritius varieties for the consumption in the domestic market have been introduced.
Issue related to post-harvest management losses have been addressed by the state government by installing cold storages in pineapple clusters.
To improve visibility and for logistics beyond state borders, new marketing channels were created by the state government to aid farmers in all aspects.
Not only that, various support for processing units have also been offered by the state government in various scales for Co-ops and homegrown entrepreneurs for manufacturing juices, concentrates and pineapple candies.
Government of Meghalaya is exploring options to indulge export oriented social enterprise to set up a frozen fruits processing unit within the active pineapple clusters could be a way to overcome the bottlenecks plaguing investment milieu of the state. As the state government has supported various processing initiatives in pineapple value chain, targeting frozen foods section may be a first of its kind initiative.
Moreover, to augment facilities, the state government has come up with a unique idea to establish a common facility centre (CFC), funded under SFURTI, ministry of MSME, for Umdihar. This facility will be used as a primary pineapple processing unit in collaboration with IQF Foods, Karnataka, providing new economic opportunities for the local population.
In a world of various pineapple varieties, Meghalaya pineapples shine through with their specific blend of sweetness, taste and juiciness. Whether it is enjoyed fresh or adapted to the delicious culinary dishes, the Meghalaya pineapple grows on to captivate the hearts and taste buds of all who relishes its unique flavour.
The author is professor & head of department of horticulture, head in-charge, department of forestry at North-Eastern Hill University