Why farmers in Andhra are switching from mango to date palm cultivation, and why they need govt support

Poor mango yields due to unseasonal rain are driving farmers in Andhra Pradesh to shift to cultivation of climate-resilient date palm.

ByLaasya Shekhar

Published Oct 29, 2023 | 2:30 PMUpdatedOct 29, 2023 | 2:30 PM

Date palm Andhra Pradesh

Sudheer Naidu was a pioneer in date palm cultivation in undivided Andhra Pradesh.

When Naidu planted about 200 date palm saplings in three acres at Bondalawada village of Narapala Mandal of Anantapur district a dozen or so years ago, he was the subject of mockery among other farmers. He spent ₹15 lakh on a drip irrigation system and to buy the saplings, which cost ₹3,600 per piece then. 

However, four years later, when the farm reaped profits, many farmers from the dry, arid regions of Andhra Pradesh followed Naidu’s in Naidu’s footsteps and began cultivating date palm. 

“In good years, I make ₹40,000 a year from the dates of a single tree. The minimum was when I made ₹10,000 from one tree. No other fruit can give you this kind of profit,” Naidu tells South First.

This year, despite a poor yield, Naidu made ₹16 lakh from his three acres. 

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Move over mangoes

Andhra Pradesh, known for its abundant mango production, is experiencing a shift in agriculture practices. Districts like Chittoor, Anantapur, and Nandyal, previously renowned for mango cultivation, are now witnessing a growing trend among farmers who are prioritising the cultivation of exotic fruit varieties like date palm.

As unseasonal rainfall affects mango yield year after year, farmers are going for climate resilient crops such as date palm.

“Rainfall during the months of November and May affects the flowering process of mango. In the last three years, districts such as Chittoor have been witnessing unseasonal rains during these months,” former District Horticulture Officer, Chittoor, Koteeswarar Rao told South First

Despite a good market rate, the poor yield of mangoes is prompting many farmers to choose other options. 

Four years ago, Mohan Prasad (46), a farmer from Dhamalacherivu village of Chittoor district, uprooted fully-grown mango trees in 30 acres and replanted the land with date palm. “What can we get out of mango trees?” he questioned. “I barely got an annual profit of ₹4 lakh from my 30-acre mango farm,” he said. 

“There is no farmer in the country who can earn ₹10 lakh an acre by cultivating mangoes. But, one can easily earn a minimum of ₹10 lakh from one acre of date palm,” Mohan Prasad told South First

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A climate-resilient crop

Three farmers from Andhra Pradesh whom South First spoke to, uprooted mango trees to plant date palm. 

Date palm can withstand unseasonal rains and gusty winds (Laasya Shekhar/ South First)

The rain damage apart, even strong winds can knock unripe mangoes off trees, but dates are not as easily affected by such gusts because of their sturdy structure.

“Date palms can withstand erratic or unseasonal rains unlike mangoes. During the flowering season (January and February), we usually do not get rain. Even if there is excess rainfall in other months, the crop can withstand it,” said S Nizamuddin, managing director of Saliah Dates, a date palm seller in India.

According to a study conducted by the University of Surrey and the University of Sheffield,  date palm plantations play a big role in achieving environmental balance, as they grow in a harsh climatic environment and even in highly saline sand.

“Moreover, the date palm absorbs carbon dioxide to a significantly greater extent than other trees, due to its large size,” the study says. 

Prevalence of red and black cotton soil in Andhra Pradesh enhances the quality of the state’s date palm, unlike in states such as Gujarat and Rajasthan where the fruit is cultivated abundantly.

Also Read: Telangana assures help for farmers affected by unseasonal rains

Flourishing market

Nizamuddin of Saliah Dates said that he sells some half of his palm saplings annually in Andhra Pradesh. “Of the 30,000 saplings I sell across the country every year, I sell 15,000 saplings a year in Andhra Pradesh,” he told South First

There is a huge market for dates in the country, with India importing its dates from Iran, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. The increase in date palm cultivation will reduce the price of the fruit.

“There is a good market locally and internationally. There is a huge potential to export the fruit to other countries,” Nizamuddin, 67, said.

Date palm cultivation is capital intensive. A sapling costs between Rs 3500 and Rs 4500. (Supplied)

The biggest advantage of date palm farmers is the abundance of the market; they are enjoying a flourishing market right at their doorstep. 

Bhaskar Naidu, a 62-year-old farmer who has been cultivating date palm in a two-acre farm in Chittoor district for eight years now, sells his produce on the Bengaluru highway adjoining the farm.

“I got 250 kilos from one tree. I sold the produce at ₹110 – ₹150 per kilo,” he told South First

Also Read: ₹20,000 per hectare relief for TN farmers hit by unseasonal rains

Need for subsidies

If date palm cultivation is so profitable, why is it confined only to well-off farmers in Andhra Pradesh? 

Date palm cultivation is capital intensive — one of the primary reasons why small farmers are unable to pursue it. Currently, cultivating this fruit in the state is restricted to well-off farmers, entrepreneurs, and politicians.

Unlike states such as Gujarat and Rajasthan, there are no subsidies for date palm cultivation in Andhra Pradesh.

The Government of Gujarat also promotes area expansion and export promotion of date palm under its State Plan. The National Horticulture Board (NHB) also supports date palm cultivation through the grant of back-ended capital subsidy @25% of the project cost, the Union Agriculture Ministry responded to question in Parliament in 2010.

Climatic conditions of Andhra Pradesh are in favour of date palm cultivation. (Laasya Shekhar/ South First)

The government of Rajasthan is implementing a date palm cultivation project in western Rajasthan under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY). Under the project, the government provides subsidies for purchasing saplings, setting up drip irrigation systems, and maintaining the farm for two years. 

Even though the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) provides assistance to farmers for cultivation of date palm at ₹22,500 per hectare (limited to four hectares per beneficiary), none of the 10 date palm farmers in Andhra Pradesh South First spoke to benefited out of the Union government scheme. 

“The cost of investing in these trees is high. But the future is not bleak. If the government introduces a subsidy, a lot of farmers will start cultivating dates in Andhra Pradesh,” said 66-year-old A Chandrayya Naidu, who cultivates the crop in six acres. He spent ₹4,700 to purchase a sapling. 

A sum of ₹2 crore has been allocated from the Union and state governments in Tamil Nadu to expand the cultivation of high-value crops such as dragon fruit and date palm, covering an area of 1,000 hectares. 

Also Read: Rare unseasonal June rain hits Chennai for 3rd time in 200 years

Why not in Andhra Pradesh? 

“There are no subsidies in Andhra Pradesh, even though a lot of farmers are going for the crop,” said Chandrayya Naidu.

Despite various pleas from the farmers, Andhra Pradesh government did not introduce subsidies for date palm.

The cultivation of date palms is seen as a risky endeavor, says Deputy Director (Horticulture) Madhusudan Reddy.

“Many farmers in Kadapa and Anantapur are currently opting to remove their date palm trees. Interestingly, Dr YSR Horticulture University in Andhra Pradesh never endorsed date palm cultivation for farmers due to the region’s unsuitable climate. So, the government is not actively promoting this crop either,” he told South First.

“Harvesting typically takes place in June and July, but the resulting color may not match the vibrant hues found in Rajasthan,” he added.

And like every crop, date palm cultivation also has challenges.

Pests such as Rhinoceros Beetle and Red Palm Weevil can excavate holes in palm trees, killing the plant if not taken care of.

When pests infect the crop, farmers are in the spot as the Horticulture Department officials are also unaware of solutions.

“We rely on information from YouTube and advice from other farmers. When Horticulture Department officials are providing technical expertise in states such as Gujarat, their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh are unaware of the basics when it comes to date palm cultivation,” said farmer Bhaskar Naidu.

The transition from mango to date palm cultivation reflects a practical response to climate challenges, with farmers yearning for government support to unlock the full potential of this resilient crop.