The Government Orange and Vegetable Farm, spread over 339.1185 hectares of land in the Nelliampathy hills, known as the ‘poor man’s Ooty,’ is a major destination of tourists now as it offers an easy escape from the scorching summer.
The farm was established in 1943 by the erstwhile Maharaja of Cochin, by revamping the abandoned Polyampara Estate with the help of British planters. The aim was to supplement fruit and vegetable supplies for the injured soldiers during World War II. Its oranges were famous for their sweetness and small size. With time, quality and yield have come down, perhaps due to climate change.
The farm lies at an altitude of about 1,050 m from MSL and receives an average annual rainfall of 3,500 mm. The temperature ranges from 12 to 31 degree Celsius. Farm Superintendent E.K. Yusuf said that of 339.1185 hectares, only 176.35 hectares were under cultivation and 75.3183 hectares were cultivable waste land. Coffee was cultivated in 85 acres, he said. There were 5,000 orange trees and a substantial area of the farm came under guava, passion fruit, rough lemon, and rose apple cultivation.
A fruit processing unit, launched in 1960, was being modernised with a financial assistance of Rs.1.25 crore from NABARD. The new plant would be inaugurated next month, he said. Now, one quintal fruits were being processed and with the new plant, the capacity would go up to a tonne a day.
The popular products of the farm include squashes of passion fruit, orange, mango, cherry lemon, guava; jam; jellies of mango, peach, rose apple, turnip guava; cut vegetables; and mango in brine, said M.S. Promode, farm manager.
A floriculture unit was established in 2010 with assistance from the State Horticulture Mission to cultivate 5,000 varieties of anthurium and orchids each. The anthurium unit was started in 2004. Its green house has 20,000-odd anthurium plants imported from Holland.
Nelliampathy has a unique blend of tropical and subtropical climate, a rarity in Kerala. It is suitable for a wide range tropical and temperate vegetables and fruits.
With unpolluted air, rich biodiversity, and pleasant weather, there was good scope for attracting tourists, Agriculture Officer of Nelliampathy Krishi Bhavan T.T. Arun said.
But, the absence of affordable and mass lodging was a big handicap in promoting tourism, he said. The farm has a lodging which generates revenue of Rs.1.5 lakh a year. With sufficient land under possession, the farm could offer mass lodging too. With scope for a botanic garden, zodiac garden, varied landscaping styles, trekking, fishing, and boating, the farm could be developed into a tourism centre, he said.
The farm had already submitted a project for introducing boating by constructing nine check dams in the stream flowing through it, Mr. Yusuf said. There was also a proposal to construct more cottages for tourists.
Since there is big demand for the fruit products of the farm there were plans to buy mango, guava, pineapple, and gooseberry from farmers to meet the requirement.
A buyback arrangement would be made with farmers, the Superintendent said. To increase the production of passion fruit juice another 5.5 hectares would be brought under its cultivation. Farmers would also be encouraged to take up passion fruit cultivation, he said. G. Prabhakaran