Cherry blossom

Horticulture exports from Kashmir this year have made a good beginning with cherry registering an increase of 166 metric tonnes in exports so far. Haroon Mirani reports.
Cherry exports from Kashmir to mainland India have registered a growth this year despite a host of problems. While hailstorms reduced the yield, competition from other states proved detrimental in marketing.  
According to the state’s Horticulture Planning and Marketing Department, 1984 metric tonnes of cherry have been exported so far this year (2009) compared to 1818 metric tonnes in 2008, an increase of 166 metric tonnes.  
Cherry has been received well in the markets across India. “The demand has been good and this year the farmers have got good prices,” said G K Baba, Deputy Director Horticulture Planning and Marketing. “Last year the average rate for one kg Cherry boxes was Rs 59 and this year it has gone up to Rs 66.”
According to Baba, overall earnings of farmers have gone up by Rs 1.5 crore over the last year.
Misri variety has been the most sought after cherry in Indian markets followed by Awwal Number, Makhmali and Cherry Double.
Most of the cherry crop is consumed in New Delhi, which accounts for 70 per cent of total production in Kashmir. “Mumbai is the second biggest market for Kashmiri cherries and there too demand has been good,” said Baba.
Tying up with Indian airlines the horticulture department dispatched 50,000 kgs of cherry by air to Mumbai. “The transportation cost was Rs 20 per box which amounts to 80 per cent concession,” said Baba. In 2008-09, 21570 boxes of one kilogram each were transported by air primarily to Mumbai market.
Around four lakh boxes were transported through trains. “This year we had also used train (AC bogies) for transporting cherry,” said Baba. Rest of the cherry was transported through trucks.
The other markets where the cherry was exported include Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Amritsar, Pathankot and Jallandhar. There have been enquiries from different markets as well. “We have even sent cherry to Waldora in Gujarat where the demand is good,” said Baba.
This year, the department was hoping for a bumper crop as all the conditions were conducive. Some estimates had predicted that cherry production would hit 6000 metric tonnes. But both nature and man made factors played the spoilsport.

Losses
Hailstorms at many of the cherry producing areas devastated the delicate crop. In some areas, the production loss amounted to about 70 per cent. Almost all places like Baramulla, Shopian, Ganderbal, Bandipora, and Srinagar received heavy to very heavy hails.  
The unrest in Shopian also proved harmful for the Cherry industry. Shopian being one of the highest Cherry producing regions in Kashmir was directly affected due to the strife.
The global recession, however, has not dampened the demand for Kashmir Cherry.

Himachal Competition
Himachal Pradesh has been steadily increasing its cherry production. Experts say that Himachal Cherry will become a bitter competitor to Kashmir Cherry in the near future.
“Himachal is working hard on many fronts to increase the cherry production both in terms of quality and quantity,” an official told Kashmir Life. “They have over 2,000 hectares of land under cherry cultivation and production is expected to be around 600 metric tonnes this year.”
Himachal Pradesh is already second largest producer of cherry in India. “Despite disadvantages in comparison to Kashmir, Himachal is using latest technology and are working in foreign collaboration too to cash on the monopoly crop of Kashmir,” he said.
Kashmir has 3,106 hectares of land under cherry cultivation. “Kashmir usually has the yield of 3.5 tonne per hectare while as world over the average is 8–10 tonne per hectare,” he said. “Now if Himachal gets that yield given their commitment and pro-active government, we will be pushed off the market easily.”  
Experts say that Kashmir has the potential to produce 30,000 tonnes of cherry annually, without increasing the area under cultivation. “We can do this by utilising latest technologies from Europe and USA. We will not only have monopoly in India but we will be included among the major global producers too,” said the official.
Such a production, experts say, can be achieved by using Ultra High Density (UHD) and High Density (HD) cherry production systems, intensive use of bees and other methods of cross fertilisation, use of genetic engineering, and by introducing new high-yielding and high-value varieties besides other such technologies prevalent in Europe and USA.

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