Strawberry growers worried Covid could upset applecart in J&K
The strawberry harvest season is on in Kashmir and the cherry crop will follow suit soon, but growers are concerned about the prices their produce will fetch amid a prolonged lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19.
Though the administration has assured people of easing Covid curbs if the number of coronavirus cases shows a steady decline over the next few days, the growers of these cash crops are keeping their fingers crossed.
“We had a good crop this year but if we aren’t able to sell the produce in the market, it is worrying. Last year, we suffered losses due to the stringent lockdown,” says Irfan Khan, who grows strawberries on six kanals at Gussu on the outskirts of Srinagar. “We used to sell most of our crop to local dealers as the consumption is good here itself,” he says.
Relaxation sought for selling strawberries
Horticulture director Ajaz Ahmad Bhat has written to the divisional administration, seeking marketing facilities for the strawberry growers during the lockdown. “Being a perishable fruit, strawberry needs immediate marketing. The fruit lasts only for 15 to 20 days after plucking,” Bhat wrote in his letter to the Kashmir divisional commissioner recently. He sought relaxation of a few hours for street vendors to sell strawberries.
“Strawberry are full of antioxidants and rich in Vitamin C so they are good for immunity-boosting, especially for Covid-19 patients,” he said, adding that due to non-relaxation of the pandemic restrictions the growers could suffer losses.
Shift to strawberries recent
Strawberry farming is a recent practice in Kashmir. Most farmers in Srinagar and parts of Ganderbal who shifted to strawberry farming used to grow vegetables earlier. Gussu has the highest number of people growing strawberries and it was a profitable venture till the pandemic struck. Some farmers grow other fruits on their land to make more profit.
Bhat said that due to less production, almost all the strawberries get sold in the local markets itself. “Due to the lockdown, we are looking to open sales points so that the growers won’t suffer losses,” he said.
Inter-cropping, high-density apple advised
Bhat visited Gussu village and interacted with strawberry growers and advised them to adopt inter-cropping and to go for high-density apple as well. “This will help growers earn even better,” he said.
Officials said that strawberries are grown on more than 250 hectares in Kashmir and most of the cash crop is grown in villages of central Kashmir, especially on Srinagar’s outskirts.
“The annual strawberry production is more than 2,000 to 2,500 metric tonnes and the growers earn more than ₹15 to 20 crore,” said an official.