Mahabaleshwar: Remember the Beatles hit ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’? Head for Maharashtra, where, after mangoes, grapes, oranges and chickoos, the western Indian state is now wooing tourists with another trademark fruit - luscious, juicy red and dark pink strawberries.In a first, a nine-day Strawberry Festival got under way over the weekend across the state in select malls to promote it as a tourist destination through strawberries."We have selected five centrally located malls in Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and Aurangabad where the farmers will directly sell their produce to the customers during the festival," Nayna Bondarde, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) regional manager at Pune said.
As far as festivals go, strawberry joins the list of fruits like mango, orange, chickoo and grapes which are celebrated annually in the state. The grape festival has an added incentive - coinciding with wine production - which has successfully lured tourists.Bhilare said that the main strawberry growing season is October-March on around 3,000-4,000 hectares in the region, engaging around 5,000 farmers."It starts after monsoon and ends as the temperature starts warming up. Though it takes around two months to grow and ripen, we can manage only a single crop per season," Bhilare said.Efforts to increase the output by two or even three crops per season would entail heavy investments in technology and related aspects, which is not at present possible."We lack proper cold storage facilities at various points; so we are not able to exploit the export potential and earn forex for the country. But, now with FDI in retail, we are starting to deliver strawberries from the farms to homes directly with great benefits for the growers and consumers," Bhilare explained.Efforts are also under way to identify other areas in the country for growing strawberry. Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Haryana, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are growing the fruit in small quantities, while experiments are under way to grow it in Arunachal Pradesh.Globally, strawberries are grown in huge quantities in Australia, the US (California and Florida), Italy, Germany, Spain and France.
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