Kokila Dhakal Ilam, Nov. 24: The season of picking and selling kiwi, which has over time become a good source of income for farmers in Ilam, has now begun. Although the market has been disrupted due to the protracted lockdown, farmers have started picking kiwis and selling them in the market. According to farmer Toyanath Chapagain from Soyang, Ilam the Hayward and Allison varieties of kiwi planted in many villages of the district have grown sufficiently this year. “Thanks to the continuous downpour, which didn’t let up until September, kiwi has grown well due to good irrigation,” said Chapagain. “The kiwis aren’t as premiumly priced this year as compared to the last. It is currently being sold at the rate of Rs. 80 to Rs. 100 per kg, as per Chapagain. Under more favourable circumstances, the kiwi produced in the district was being sold at the rate of Rs. 150 to Rs. 300 per kg. Farmers say that even though the prices are lower this year, kiwis are being exported to the local markets of the district to Jhapa, Birtamod, Damak, Dharan and Biratnagar. While the kiwi sapling initially demands a taxing amount of care from the farmers, it doesn’t require as much attention once it starts sprouting, explained Chapagain. "Despite the lower price, we haven’t incurred a big loss. Given the inconvenient conditions, the fruit itself has not rotted, which we are thankful for," said Chapagain. Farmers in Sulubung, Ilam, who have been cultivating kiwis for 12 years, are also now busy with picking and storing the fruit. Since the kiwi harvested this October/November lasts only a little over a couple of months, farmers have to sell it within that time frame. A single plant yields about one quintal of kiwis, and owing to a lack of proper cold storage, kiwi farmers are facing problems in storing the surplus amount of produce. “Kiwis can’t be placed in any storage facilities. If we can store these fruits for a year, farmers can be able to reap greater benefits and take advantage of the increasing demand for kiwis,” informed farmer Taramani Khatiwada. Khatiwada, with the help of Hasty Kiwi Private Limited, has planted over 600 kiwi saplings. According to Hasty Kiwi’s Chairperson Parvati Khatiwada, kiwis produced in her orchard and from nearby farmers are collected and dispatched from Birtamod, Jhapa to several other places. “There is a growing awareness that one should eat kiwis. Nowadays, instead of crystalized sugar lumps, coconuts and apples, kiwi has become the go-to souvenirs to take away from Ilam,” said Chairperson Khatiwada. Following the expansion of kiwi farming, the government has also started a ‘kiwi zone’ programme under the Prime Minister's Agriculture Modernisation Project. In the 10-year-long project, Ilam Municipality’s Ward Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 have been declared as kiwi zones. According to the project, the budget allocated for the kiwi zone is being utilized on enhancing technical capabilities for increased production as well as expansion of kiwi farming. The project is said to be assisting farmers in processing, marketing and commercialisation and industrilisation of kiwis. Tony Bardewa, head of Krishi Gyan Kendra, Ilam (District Agriculture Development Office, Ilam), said that data is being collected on the total production from kiwi, which is spread over 200 hectares of land. Farmers from Sulubung, Maimjhuwa, Sakhejung, Mangalbare, Panchakanya, among other places, of the district have been actively involved in planting kiwis, as per the Agriculture Development Office. Apart from Jhapa, the kiwis of Ilam are also exported to the main commercial hubs in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Biratnagar and Dharan.