They have in the past been certified as the "best, sweet and juicy oranges" by central horticulture authorities. But the famed Khasi Mandarin oranges of Meghalaya are under threat from insects and outside varieties of the fruit.
Khasi Mandarin is grown on the southern slopes of Wahkhen Mawphu and Nongsteng villages, among others, in the sub-division of Sohra, previously known as Cherrapunji, in the East Khasi Hills district.
"But fruit sucking moths (Othresis fullonica) are destroying oranges and making cultivation economically non-viable," said Herman Sanlyngdoh, an orange farmer from Nongsteng.
Other farmers echoed similar concern. "We need government help to save our orchards," urged another grower of the citrus fruit from Sohra.
Meghalaya produces 40,000 tonnes of oranges annually, about five percent of the country\’s total.
Meghalaya Horticulture Director C.O. Rangad said Khasi Mandarin and other variety of oranges being grown in various parts of Meghalaya were under attack by two types of pests.
Also most worrying is the use by farmers of orange saplings from outside Meghalaya, he said.
Orange growers were tempted to buy saplings from places outside Meghalaya because of lower price as compared to the good quality saplings being supplied by the Meghalaya horticulture department.
On government steps being taken to ensure that farmers bought Khasi Mandarin saplings, Rangad said the 13th Finance Commission recently awarded Rs.30 crore for Meghalaya to set up two planting material hubs for different types of horticultural saplings, including oranges – one in East Khasi Hills and another in East Garo Hills district.
"Out of Rs.30 crore, Rs.5 crore will be utilised for orange saplings since the government did not want to encourage orange growers in the state to buy saplings from outside," Rangad added.
The government is also advising orange growers to follow the latest growing methods in order to prevent attacks by insects.
"We have asked the farmers to strictly follow the pest control and other sustainable ways, besides supplying sufficient manure to increase the productivity of the orchards. Most of them did not follow the scientific methods which prevent the orange trees from attack by insects," Rangad said.