Rural Business Hub on Strawberry in RI-BHOI District
The Man behind the Strawberry...
Mr. O. Lynkhoi's journey of initiating strawberry plantation dates back to 1998 when his friend and relative Dr Longtrai introduced him to Mr Leston Wanswait who was keen to experiment strawberry plantation in Meghalaya. Mr Wanswait-through his son who was studying in Pune, got some plants from Pune and started experimenting strawberry plantation in Cherrapunji. The climate of Cherrapunji was not suitable and he was contemplating initiation of plantation in the Byrnihat area. For that he needed some support and that is how he got in touch with Mr Lynkhoi and they both started plantation in Byrnihat area. Mr Lynkhoi worked for him and seeing the initial success ,immediately started strawberry plantation in his village in Sohliya.
Mr. Lynkhoi is an extremely enterprising person and his life has been full of challenges. But he has converted every challenge to an opportunity. Born in a small village named Pariong in West Khasi Hills, Lynkhoi's father was a school teacher and they were seven children in the family. It was in the year 1966 that they shifted to Sohliya village where the family finally settled. Being from a farming community, they started cultivation and their father continued teaching in nearby schools. After completing his Class XII from St Edmund's College Shillong, Lynkhoi looked around for a job and managed to get a helper's position on a temporary basis at the block office in Mawryngkeng where he worked for one and a half years and his starting salary was Rs 80/ per month. When he got married he did not have a permanent job and used to do small time trading business. His first achievement came in the year 1975 when he stood second in the entrance test to join the Meghalaya Police Radio Organisation as a Wireless Operator. It was through his grit and determination that he got this job and his height of 5ft 2inch, which was otherwise a disqualifying attribute, did not become a deterrent as he stood ahead of others in all the qualifying physical tests. For initial three years Lynkhoi was posted in Sonapahar in West Khasi Hills and later he was transferred to Shillong. Any other person in his position would have thought of a settled life with a secured job but the entrepreneurial mind of Lynkhoi made him restless and his desire to innovate and create influenced him to leave his job and be his own boss. He started farming initially in West Khasi Hills and later shifted to Sohliya village. Starting with cultivation of paddy and maize, he later ventured into tea cultivation. Eventually in the year 2002, after his initial experimentation with his friend in Byrnihat, he started growing strawberries in Sohliya village. For the first four years he was the lone cultivator in the village and he used to pack his produce in bamboo baskets and engage his son in selling strawberries on the roads of Shillong. He immediately got a very good response and understood that there could be a very good future for this fruit. Sensing the returns, other farmers of Sohliya village started taking his help in planting strawberries.
The turning point came in the year 2004 when Mr Lynkhoi met the Horticultural Officer, Mr. B.K. Sohliya, who not only became a friend, philosopher and guide to Mr Lynkhoi but encouraged the farmers to form a Strawberry Growers Association. He provided them support under the technology mission. The seedlings were procured from California and the production increased by leaps and bounds during the period from 2006 to 2008. Sohliya village, named after the indigenous Sohliya fruit, is now known more as the strawberry village which is about five kilometers from Umsning in Ri- Bhoi district. Cropping area in the village ranges from 1 to 3.8 hectares and the output of strawberries is dependent on the availability of seedlings A problem that stood out in the entire process was availability of seedlings. The seedlings had to be procured from California and the landed price was Rs 17 per seedling. Not only the price, there was also uncertainty in arrival of the seedlings on time from California.
After interacting with Mr Lynkhoi and other stakeholders, the idea of setting up a nursery for germinating seedlings in the village itself and thereby reducing dependency on Californian seedlings was mooted. A Rural Business Hub on Strawberries was set up in Sohliya village to increase productivity and to ensure market linkage with a private buyer at a predetermined price. The nursery brought in all vigour, expectation and enthusiasm amongst the growers and newer leads in marketing strawberry started opening in the village. The exposure has helped the villagers in realizing not only the value of the fruit but to explore the possibility of cashing in on various by-products that strawberry has to offer. Options of making dehydrated strawberry, wine, jam, ice-cream essence etc. has a great potential. Some small steps have been initiated under the leadership of Lynkhoi, who besides being the headman of the village, as Secretary of Strawberry Growers Association, acts both as a producer and marketer of strawberries for the village. One can see a visible difference in the confidence level of Mr Lynkhoi today as compared to what he was in 2008. Today he is sure about the market, has linkage with 7-8 buyers in Guwahati with the help of whom he has exported strawberries to nearby countries. With the opening up of formal border trade with Bangladesh via Meghalaya, Mr Lynkhoi is looking forward to trading strawberries with Bangladesh also.
Mr. Lynkhoi has came a long way and he is grateful
for the support that he has received from the
Government. But having realized the prospects he
feels there is a long way to go. The main deterrent is
the lack of knowledge on the technology for
breeding mother plants. In Lynkhoi's own words "It
is a shame that in a country like India we do not have
access to the technology of breeding strawberries".
He also had a lot of expectations from ICAR but
remains a disappointed man. His wish is to go
United States, stay in California, learn the
technology and bring in a revolution in growing
strawberries in his state and market strawberries of
Meghalaya to the world.
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