Unlock could be the cherry on top for growers in Kashmir
The onset of the summer fruit season has fortuitously coincided with the unlock process in Jammu and Kashmir, raising cherry growers’ hopes for rich returns after suffering losses last year due to an extended lockdown.
Kashmir produces four highly sought-after varieties of cherry — double, makhmali, mishri and Italy — most of which are sold outside the Valley, for premium prices. With harvest underway, cherry growers are trying to send the fruit to other states at the earliest. Some are availing flights to ensure that no time is lost in selling the highly perishable fruit.
The cherry harvesting season begins from mid-May and lasts up to the first week of July. As per estimates of J&K’s horticulture department cherry is being cultivates on around 2,800 hectares, which yields an annual turnover of around 130 to 150 crore. Though cherry is grown ubiquitously in the Valley, the major produce comes from central and northern Kashmir.
Prolonged cold hit production
The UT’s annual production of the stone fruit is around 12,000 metric tons. However, growers say this year production has been low due to prolonged cold weather conditions.
Horticulture director Ajaz Ahmad Bhat said the production of the crops, whether strawberry or cherry, “was not so bad. The government has made arrangements so that the growers do not face any trouble exporting the fruit outside Kashmir amid the pandemic.”
“Now, harvest of apricot and other stone fruits will follow. The government has already announced subsidies on air freight for cherry,” Bhat said, adding that the horticulture department had already signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the airline carrier, GoAir, for transportation of perishable horticulture and agricultural produce to destinations across the country, especially Mumbai.
A grower, Mohammad Yusuf Pattan, said despite the hailstorms and fluctuating weather patterns the cherry production had not suffered much. “As compared to last year, the production has undoubtedly been less. We are selling the fruit in local markets and also mandis from where it is dispatched outside the state. Last year, we had to face losses because of the extended lockdown.”
‘Rates compensate for lower production’
Fruit Growers And Dealers Association president Bashir Ahmad Bhat says, “The lower production has jacked up the rates. We are dispatching cherries via road, air and train to other mandis.”
J&K had witnessed a bumper crop in 2018. Officials in the horticulture department said the production had reached around 11,289 and 11,789 metric tons in 2017 and 2018, respectively. In 2019 and 2020, the cherry production had also been around 12,000 metric tons, as per the official estimates.