Dr. SK Chauhan, Chief Technical Officer (Horticulture) at ICAR, introduced baby corn in the Aterna village of Haryana during 1997-98. After facing initial roadblocks, the farmers of the surrounding areas have now become entrepreneurs. MOHD MUSTAQUIM reports
In the 1990s, Aterna village in the Sonepat district of Haryana had been facing groundwater depletion, caused by paddy farming, which needs round-the-clock water in the field. In 1997-98, Dr. SK Chauhan, Chief Technical Officer (Horticulture) at Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, introduced baby corn in the village. Growing baby corn requires little water, depending on the level of soil moisture.
In one and a half decade, not only Aterna but also its surrounding villages, Manoli, Khurampur, Bhaira, Jaati and Sersaha, have been turned into green baby corn fields. Today, baby corn farming generates employment among the villagers, and some farmers have become entrepreneurs.
First, Dr. Chauhan convinced an educated and progressive farmer, Kanwal Singh. As a change agent, Singh started baby corn farming with imported seeds in three acres of his land.
It was then a new crop at that time. Nobody ever dreamt of the success of baby corn; its marketing was a challenge. But the ‘slow and steady wins the race’ formula proved true in case of baby corn farming.
Today, around 1,200 farmers of Aterna and its surrounding hamlets cultivate baby corn, and their families are engaged in de-husking, packaging, transporting and allied activities.
“The patience and hard work of the farmers of Aterna village have paid off, farmers have started to earn an income of Rs.200,000 per hectare per annum. In addition, it also makes the availability of green fodder round-the-year for their milch cattle. Since baby corn is a short-duration crop, it takes 50-70 days,” says Dr. Chauhan.
In the beginning, the cost of cultivation was quite high due to high-cost imported seeds from Thailand at Rs 250-300 per kg. With the introduction of hybrid HM 4, Haryana Seed Development Corporation (HSDC) currently supplies the seeds at Rs 60-75 per kg, making it economical for the farmers. Some farmers now produce the HM 4 hybrid seeds on their own.
The cultivation practices for baby corn are simple and almost similar to that of ordinary maize, except harvesting of its green cobs within 2-3 days of their silking at very young stage. The fields are prepared and the standard dose of compost and urea is applied. After following the standard package of cultivation practices, a good crop of baby corn can be taken. Their outer green husks are removed and the de-husked baby corn is properly packed in thermocol trays by covering them with cellophane sheets and sent to markets for sale.
It has proved to be a money spinning crop for the farmers. The green fodder has also increased the milk production by 20-25 percent.
Green cobs are harvested within 2-3 days without pesticides. “It is quite safe for human as well as for livestock consumption. The pesticide free gobar (dung) of the cattle forms a good base for vermi-compost. This rich organic content further adds to the soil fertility and improves crop health. The baby corn thus being an organic crop helps improve health of human, cattle, soil and environment and brings prosperity and happiness to farmers, Dr. Chauhan informs.
Kanwal Singh has now set up a small processing unit in Aterna for canning baby corn, sweet corn, mushroom, tomato and other fruits. He procures the produce from other farmers and cans these crops in his unit for further marketing. Thus a progressive farmer as well as an entrepreneur, through his hard work, has not only changed his life but also has provided encouragement to other farmers beside empowering women in the area. He has received several awards from the government of Haryana and ICAR for diversification of agricultural crops.
Baby corn' nutritional quality is at par or even superior to some of the seasonal non-leguminous vegetables such as cauliflower, tomato, cucumber and cabbage. Besides digestive proteins and fibers, it is a rich source of several important minerals and vitamins. It contains 3 percent protein, 8 to 10 percent sugar, several minerals such as potassium 370 mg/100 g, phosphorus 150 mg/100g, calcium 36 mg/100g and iron 0.88 mg/100g. It also contains 120 brix of total soluble solids (TSS).
Baby corn is high in folate, B-6 vitamin, riboflavin and vitamin C. It contains two carotenoids like zeaxanthin and lutein which help to prevent cataracts, thus keeping eyes healthy. It is also a rich source of crude fibers and fibrous proteins which help prevent intestinal cancer. It contains zero cholesterol which helps prevent coronary artery diseases.
Continuous rice–wheat cropping system leads to several problems like depletion of underground water and degrading soil health. Hence, there is a need to diversify the cropping system which is more remunerative to the farmers. Baby corn could be a good option for crop diversification as it suits peri-urban agriculture. Being a short-duration crop of 50-70 days during kharif, two crops of baby corn can be cultivated in a year after wheat which only adds to the income of the farmers, and also providing a better substitute for rice in rice-wheat cropping system, thus maintaining good soil health.
Baby corn can be marketed as fresh husked and de-husked young cobs, canned products and pickles. It is mostly harvested in Asian countries like Thailand, India, China and Taiwan. Its consumption in Asia is highest in the world. Now, its production and markets are expanding worldwide, especially in Asia, Africa and South America. However, some Asian countries like Japan and Malaysia import it.
Most of the baby corn growers sell their produce to local markets. But an effective market chain is already in the operation for the marketing of baby corn in India.