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Monday, January 30, 2012

Innovative propagation of Oranges - Lesson from Nongkwai Village
-By Canning S Shabong
Putting on our jogging shoes, we trekked our way to Nongkwai village, a distant of about 5 Km from Mawpran, a village near Pynursla. Situated on a hill slope at an elevation of 632 metres mean sea level before reaching Nongkwai, we made the 5 KM downhill trek to an Orange Orchard belonging to Sina Mawiong of Nongkwai. We had to go down a perilous steep hill which seems to go down endlessly and at times, we felt as if we were hanging between the sky and the deep valley below. With our legs trembling from the exertion of the calf muscles, we traverse through a steep slope lined with broomstick ready for harvest, and met women folk carrying wooden logs of about 2 feet in length on their basket climbing the steep slope with gusto.

Fig. 1. A view of the Orange Orchard which is heavy laden with fruit

Our team comprised of Barry Syiem, Col. Stephen, Vishu Singhania, Cliff and myself, all eager to witness with our own eyes, how an innovative method of multiplying oranges (propagation through air layering) can potentially help regain for Meghalaya its pride of place as the largest producer of Khasi mandarin orange once again. Due to citrus decline in the recent past, Khasi mandarin oranges have almost vanished from many orchards, especially those located in the southern slopes of the State. We had travelled this far to meet bah Steshon Mawiong, a progressive second generation farmer who’s orange orchard, comprising about 5 hectares has become one of the model orchard visited by many visitors and enthusiast alike. Steshon Mawiong has mastered an innovative method of propagating oranges by a process known as “air layering” or ‘bait soh’ in his native jargon. Layering is a process of propagation of fruit trees, which produce true to type progeny. In the conventional air layering, a thin plastic sheet is use to cover the portion of the branch which has been stripped of about 3-5 inches of its bark, patched with a handful of soil and then covered by this thin plastic sheet to make it air tight.

Fig. 2. A one year old orange fruit tree propagated through this method 

Steshon Mawiong is the eldest of 8 family members of Late Shri. Jrui Nongrum, who single handedly terraced his entire orchard with stone chips and stone boulders in order to plant oranges. He is also the pioneer of this innovative method of air layering, which was subsequently passed on to his son, who has now become a master trainer in this indigenous method of air layering. At present, the mother Sina Mawiong, son Steshon and Phruin Mawiong and their family lovingly maintain the orchard, which we witnessed is heavy laden with a bountiful harvest of low hanging orange fruit, ready to be plucked and transported up the hill slope of 2500 steps to the nearest market.
“This year has been a very good year”, quipped Steshon, with a gleeful smile. One of the best orange tree in his orchard is producing about 240-300 well rounded oranges.  At present about 500 trees are of bearing age and is providing him with an income of Rs. 400-450 per ‘bhar’ (64 number of oranges = 1 bhar). In a single market day, he is able to send about 60-70 bhar to the nearest market located at Mawpran from his orchard. The only drawback is the lack of a motorable road, as the load has to be carried on head load or in bamboo baskets up the steep hill.

Fig.3.  Close up view of a branch which is being propagated through layering 

Steshon proudly told us that his orchard consists of about 3000 number of orange trees at various stages of formation. He also pointed to us a 1(one) year old propagated tree already fruiting in his orchard. This was made possible through his innovative method of air layering, where the branch from which the progeny was multiplied through air layering was already in the fruiting stage. This technique is a very innovative method in orchard propagation, where the fruits can be harvested only 1-2 years after planting.    
Steshon Mawiong also demonstrated to us this layering technique which he has learnt from his father. In the beginning, he dug out soils from his garden, pounded this soil with a stick and then pass it 2-3 times through a fine sieve, so that he could get very finely graded soil. He then collected this fine grained soil into a bag, and carried along “sla met” or Phrynium pubinerve leaves in lieu of plastic sheets normally used in layering. The use of ‘sla met’ leaves is his novel method used in this indigenous propagation through air layering. In order to contain the soil used in layering, he used the traditional thin bamboo strips as threads, which are used in traditional packaging methods.  A thumb sized branch is carefully selected from a mature tree, where two circular cuts are made with a knife keeping a distance of 3-4 inches from both circular cuts. The space between both these circular cuts is then scrapped of its barks with the knife. Then, the leaves are tied in the shape or a cone and then the fine soil is inserted into the cone shaped leaves. A small stick is use to push the soil firmly into the cone shaped leaves, such that the soil covers the entire part of the scrapped portion of the branch. Then, the bamboo strips are then used to tie up the entire contraption to make it air tight.

Fig. 4. Steshon Mawiong demonstrating his innovative method to the visiting team 

The best time for layering, according to Steshon is during the months of December-January. Root formation will take about 6 months (May-June) and planting can be taken up during the month of July-September. He also informed that the normal fruiting will take place by the 2nd year onwards, which is a faster way of propagation method compared to grafted, budded or seed propagated plants.
Both Steshon Mawiong and his wife, Sina Mawiong and their 2 children went about their work of harvesting the fruits of their labour and to our amazement, gifted us about 2 basket full of ripe oranges for the team – we wondered how on earth are we going to carry back this gift up the slope. To our utter surprise and relief, one of the family members also offered to carry it for us; we not only experienced hospitality at its best, but also had a firsthand experience of the generosity of this simple and hardworking family.     
(The writer is working as Agriculture Development Officer(info), Agriculture Information Wing, Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya and can be contacted at )