A bumper crop has failed to bring smile on the faces of kinnow growers as there are not enough buyers to lift their harvest at good prices.
Fearing a glut, the growers had started bringing their produce to the market as early as November. At that time, it did not fetch good price as the fruit was not quite ripe and now the market is down due to a glut-like situation.
The farmers, who embraced crop diversification about a decade ago, are once again mulling a switch to cultivation of maize or vegetables.
The area under kinnow cultivation in the district has come down by nearly 500 hectares in the last couple of years. Lack of potential market has disheartened the farmers. For big farmers, there was a good market in Middle East countries but not anymore. Last year, a small consignment was sent to UK to test the waters but the farmers could not meet the specifications.
Export from Pakistan has also adversely impacted the local growers. Medium and small farmers are hit the hardest as they lack the potential for exports. Domestic sale is their best bet.
Malkit Singh, a farmer from Hariana, has reverted to maize cultivation as kinnow was not getting him good returns. Sohan Singh, another farmer of Pandori Sumla who is executive director of Citrus Estate Bhunga, has replaced his 16 acre kinnow field with potato and other vegetable crops.
“Initially, farmers reaped good profits but rising costs, plant diseases, weather fluctuations and above all limited market brought the profits down by several notches. This year, I cultivated three crops in place of kinnow and earned good income,” said Sohan Singh.
Horticulture development officer Jaspal Singh said it was disappointing to see farmers ditching a practice the department worked so hard to promote.
“It is indeed difficult to sustain farmers' interest in kinnow cultivation if they do not get adequate returns. At the end of the day, it is marketing that matters,” he said.
Farmers had high hopes from the multipurpose fruit and vegetable processing unit at Jahan Khelan but it failed to deliver. For many years after its installation in 2007, the plant remained almost out of use. Last year, it did function for a few days but since farmers were least hopeful, they had already sold most of the stock. This year the trial is complete and the plant is expected to mill around 2000 tonnes of Kinnow. "We are processing the fruit for Hindustan Levers Ltd. Besides that we will process another 2000 tonnes for marketing at our own outlets", said Punjab Agro Industries Corporation managing director Kahan Singh Pannu.
Punjab horticulture director Gurkanwal Singh, who has been the nodal officer for citrus, agreed that there certainly was a need to explore newer markets. "Once the low-grade fruit is consumed at the processing plant, prices of high-quality fruit would improve", he claimed. "At the newly established Indo-Israel Centre of Excellence at Khanaura village, we are developing techniques to enable farmers raise low cost, high-yield, disease-resistant varieties. An effective post-harvest management plan is also in the offing,” he added.