The Indian Gooseberry, or amla, has long been a part of local culture in the southern regions of the country. India is now helping farmers to cultivate groves of trees that produce the yellow-green spherical fruit that is about the size of a lemon. Amla growers in Tamil Nadu are profiting from the effort.
The taste of Indian Gooseberry is sour, bitter and is quite fibrous. In India, it is common to eat gooseberries after they have been pickled with salt, oil, and spices. Amla is also eaten raw or cooked into various dishes.
But the fruit has many other uses, which is boosting its demand. A grower in Papparapatti village of Dharmapuri district says with the government's help, he can cultivate from a hectare of trees at least double India's nominal per capita income level of $1030 in 2009.
"National Horticulture Scheme helped a lot, how to get in the distance, plantation method and various tips and plantation method they are giving me," he said. "With their help, I am putting this one, now they are also happy. I am getting around three times first year, another two years I will apply 1-1.45 acres of land then I will be getting five times, about one lakh [$2250] per six months, per year two lakhs [$4500]. After deducting expenses also, I'm getting minimum one lakh at any cost minimum, one lakh I'm getting profit in 1.5 acres."
The increase in amla yield combined with low cost of cultivation has grown the impressive profits. The federally sponsored National Horticulture Mission also offers assistance to the farmers with money, organic production facilities and improved seeds.
Mr. Mukundan is the Assistant Director of the Horticulture Department in Dharmapuri.
"We are promoting amla cultivation among farmers," he said. "Every year we are promoting 100-200 hectares of amla under National Horticulture Mission scheme. In the schemes, around 20,000-25,000 of rupees [$450-$560] worth of assistance would be provided to farmers for the period of three years. For that we are distributing [to] farmers softwood grafted amla [hybrid Indian Gooseberry] selling."
Ripening in autumn, the smooth hard amla berries are harvested by hand after climbing over a dozen meters to the upper branches that bear the fruits.
The Indian Gooseberry is also used to straighten hair and is traditionally believed to prevent premature grey hair. Amla is used to help fix dyes in fabric.
But it also has promising uses in medicine. Indian Gooseberry is a source of Vitamin C and has shown in vitro antiviral and antimicrobial properties. It is being tested for treatments of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, inflammation, cancer, age-related renal disease, and diabetes.