Nagaland apples: sowed by conflict, marketed during COVID-19

Four decades after it reached Thanamir from Kashmir, the fruit is being sold as a branded farm produce, thanks to the efforts of a local students’ union

The unfamiliar apple travelled from Kashmir to Nagaland’s Thanamir via Assam Rifles soldiers during the peak of conflict in 1980, when the extremist National Socialist Council of Nagaland was born.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made Thanamir’s apples, sowed from the ‘fruits of friendship’ between a Gurkha soldier and a village guard, J. Yongphukhiung, travel out four decades later as a branded farm produce marketed by a local students’ union.

Bordering Myanmar, Thanamir is a village in Kiphire district inhabited by Nagas of the Yimchungru community. Thanamir was primarily known as the last stop for trekkers to Saramati, Nagaland’s highest peak at 3,840 m above sea level, until the State government declared it a vegetable village in 2013, almost five years after it was connected by a road. But the Kashmir-origin apples grown organically added gloss to the village after the Thanamir Students’ Union (TSU) began organising a festival to attract officials, horticulture experts and adventurous visitors.

“We could not organise the annual Apple Festival this year after eight editions due to the COVID-19 restrictions. This made us work on a project to market our apples to the nearest urban centres in an organised way,” TSU vice-president N. Lemchimong told The Hindu.

High on demand

This meant delivering the apples to State capital Kohima, more than 300 km and eight hours’ drive away, and Nagaland’s commercial hub Dimapur further beyond in August-September. At a wholesale price of ₹1,000 a carton of 7 kg each, the apples sold out in no time.

Kohima-based Vatsu Meru, a former Minister, said the Thanamir apples had been high on demand but difficult to get earlier. It needed an initiative like the TSU’s for urban consumers to get them nearer home.

“The apples are quite large, sweet and juicy,” said Kohima-based homemaker Adeno Koutsu.

Her Dimapur-based acquaintance Moaben Kitchu said the green apples from Thanamir have a sweet-sour taste while biting into a red one makes the juice flow out of the mouth.

Thanamir’s Head Gaon Bura (village elder) Rethrongki said more than 150 apple farmers had a better harvest this year compared to 2019. Offloading the apples would have been difficult without the help of TSU because of periodic lockdowns, he said.

“Our project to market the apples is for three years. We are also looking at coordinating with students of other apple-producing villages in the area for marketing apples and other fruits on a larger scale,” Mr. Lemchimong said.

And apple is one of many fruits the high-altitude Thanamir and six adjoining villages grow. The area is also known for quality kiwis, oranges, pineapples, banana and mango.

According to Kiphire’s district horticulture officer Elias Lotha, seven villages in the area produce 25 metric tonnes of apples annually on about 30 hectares of land. “Apart from fiscal assistance for maintenance and free saplings, we provide training for proper planting method and rejuvenation of older plants for higher yield,” he said.

Mr. Yongphukhiang, Thanamir’s first apple planter recognised by the village council, did not need any training though. He taught himself the technique of cloning saplings from the roots of the mother tree and distributing them to the villagers.

Locals said the mother tree continues to bear fruit and remains the apple of the eye of its wizened planter.

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