Ground apple – a crop that can boost Himachal’s economy

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Rekong Peo (Himachal Pradesh): It looks like a sweet potato but tastes like a sweet apple.

It’s the exotic ‘Peruvian ground apple’, also known as ‘ground apple’ or ‘yacon’, a nutritious root vegetable low in calories and high in potassium and which can boost the economy of Himachal Pradesh. The crop has a huge market in the sucrose-free food industry, say agricultural experts.

Satyajeet Negi, a prominent apple grower near this town in Kinnaur district and the only ground apple grower in the state, has harvested its tuberous roots on an experimental basis in his orchard.

“I procured the tuberous roots from a Nepali migrant labourer and planted it in a portion of my apple orchards in Powari and Purbani villages (in Kalpa block) last April. In just seven months, it yielded a large harvest of tubers,” Negi told IANS.

According to him, ground apple can be successfully grown at an altitude of 5,000 feet and above.

A member of the sunflower family, it grows well beneath a canopy of trees.

“The state should promote the commercial cultivation of ground apple as its demand in the food industry is remunerative,” he said.

Nutrition experts say the tubers taste crunchy, crisp and refreshing just like a sweet apple. It contains carbohydrates in the form of inulin, a type of fructose, which is a suitable food for type II diabetics.

The ground apple also has potential as a forage crop with a high protein content.

Negi presented a sample of the ground apple yield to Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh in Shimla last month.

Impressed for adopting crop diversification, the chief minister asked scientists of Solan-based Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry to make efforts to popularise its cultivation.

Negi said since the university’s research centres are located on the state’s higher reaches, efforts could be made to grow ground apple. This will, besides adding to the economy of the hill people, will also fetch them a good amount by marketing its leaves, which has potential as a forage crop for animals.

Himachal Pradesh, emerging as the leading producer of vegetables like peas, cabbages, cauliflowers, tomatoes, capsicum and potatoes among the hill states, annually earns more than Rs.2,500 crore ($414 million) from this.

The state agriculture department says about 400,000 farmers, many of them with small holdings, are engaged in vegetable production.

The cultivation of exotic vegetables in polyhouses and setting up of controlled atmosphere chains are expected to add to earnings of the growers.

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