Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh): The lockdown in the pandemic and her love for strawberries is not only changing the fate of the region she lives in but has also turned her into a celebrity of sorts.
A law graduate from Pune, Gurleen Chawla, 23, was preparing to do her Master's in Law from the US when the lockdown was clamped.
With nothing better to do, Gurleen, who is fond of strawberries but could not find them in Jhansi, bought ten seedlings and planted them in pots filled with coco-peat at her small terrace garden.
"I was excited when small plants started bearing fruits. The fruits were small in size but they were juicy and tasty," she said.
Her father Harjeet Singh Chawla, a businessman, then went on to encourage her and she decided to develop 4.5 acres of barren land that was bought by her father years ago, but was lying vacant at the moment.
"I bought 20,000 strawberry seedlings, grown with tissue culture, and sowed them in 1.5 acres using organic fertilizers and the latest techniques in October last year," she said.
Gurleen claimed that since strawberries need little water retention and a maximum temperature up to 35 degrees, the climate and soil in Jhansi just did wonders with the strawberry seedlings.
"All of them are now bearing bigger and juicier fruits. I am expecting a total yield of 10,000 kg this season. We pluck daily and sell it to local supermarkets at Rs 250 per kg," she said.
To market her produce online, she has developed a website -- www.jhansiorganics.com -- to sell the strawberries outside Jhansi as well.
"I have a marketing consultant who is exploring bigger markets for the next season," she said.
Besides growing strawberries, Gurleen is also using the remaining three acres of land for growing organic bell pepper, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, and other seasonal vegetables to increase her income.
On learning of her initiative, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has already named her as the Brand Ambassador of the month-long stay-at-home 'Strawberry Festival' in Jhansi, which began on January 16.
She has turned into a celebrity of sorts after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his this year's first 'Mann Ki Baat' programme on Sunday, lauded her efforts and said, "Gurleen's successful experiment has given a new hope -- that growing strawberries is possible in Jhansi as well".
Gurleen is now ready to help farmers who wish to increase their income by growing strawberries.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has said that the Central Institute of Subtropical Horticulture (CISH) will help strawberry farming too.
According to agriculture experts, the soil of Bundelkhand region is suited for strawberry farming as it requires less irrigation and the soil is mostly free of pesticides.
Andre Vamsi, District Magistrate of Jhansi, has assured all help to farmers who choose to cultivate strawberries. "There is a general belief that the soil of the Bundelkhand region is not suitable for such fruits. Strawberry could prove to be an additional mode of earning for farmers of the region," he said.
Raja Bundela, vice chairman, Bundelkhand Development Board, said, "Strawberry cultivation will now be promoted all over Bundelkhand. Farmers of the region can benefit a lot from this fruit crop."
The Board will also help popularise strawberry cultivation in Bundelkhand region to help farmers supplement their income.