by R S Gull

On Stride: Mufti Sayeed, Khurram Mir and others passing through the orchard.

BAMDORA, KOKERNAG: Impressed by the sophisticated display of the possibilities in high-density horticulture, Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed on Friday termed the demonstration orchard as “the new hope” for an exploited Kashmir. He directed the immediate identification of similar demonstrative orchards across Apple growing belts to ensure the new varieties with new technologies are immediately transferred to the growers for propagation.

He said the new system of apple plantations reduces the gestation period of the fruit by one-third of the routine time, appreciates the yield four times and improves earnings faster.

Mufti rebuffed his Horticulture Minister Abdul Rehman Veeri and various horticulture-related institutions for their failure in not doing anything. Instead, he suggested Khurram Mir – the man behind the initiative, get ready for a PPP model and start changing the profile of Kashmir’s apple economy, currently a Rs 4000 Crore sector, and the driver of peripheral society.

Windfall Forecaster

Rapt Attention: Mufti listens keenly Khurram Mir.

Mir, a Shopian-bred and US-read entrepreneur in the horticulture sector owns Kashmir’s major controlled atmosphere facility and has now invested massively in a 42-kanal orchard to create Kashmir’s first high-density orchard using seven Italian varieties with drip irrigation and European-style farming.

Harsha Naturals, of which he is the top executive, owned his storage facility is in Lassipora as he floated a new company Root2Fruit that owns his modern orchard in this Kokernag village.

Most of 7000 imported saplings bore fruit within 15 months of plantations which is a record of sorts in this part of the world. For traditional varieties, the gestation period is five years.

Mir gave a brief presentation to Mufti and his team on an LCD and a projector set in a tent with the lush green orchard in the background. He has several thatch-roofed structures in his orchard that give it an impressively traditional look.

The new system of apple farming, Mir said will take yearly earnings from apples to Rs 42000 Crore in the next 15 years if Kashmir converts only twenty per cent of its 1.5 lakh hector orchards into high density. If the entire land under Apple is changed, the income will touch Rs 80000 Crore in 15 years in addition to the six lakh jobs the intervention will result in.

Growers, Mir’s analysis suggests, will get back their entire investment in the conversion of traditional orchards into modern high-density plantations in the first four commercial crops. “We use 13 plants in a kanal of land traditionally but in this case, we use 200,” Mir said, adding the yield per kanal is five tons. “We can become the second major apple producer in the world if we get into high-density.”

For inspecting the orchard, Mufti walked into the unending gullies with little fruit-bearing plants tied tightly with bamboo and steel rods through support wires under hail nets. He saw all the varieties, and was amazed by the quality – size and colour, but was impressed by Grey Smith, a raw green apple that has therapeutic use for diabetes. Khurram told him it sells for Rs 100, a piece, in the international market.

Veeri’s Priorities

Veeri at Fruit Mandi, Srinagar in this file pic.
Veeri at Fruit Mandi, Srinagar in this file pic.

In between these rows, Mufti consistently advised Veeri to use the enterprising young man’s capacity and knowledge in the multiplication of such demonstrative orchards across Kashmir. This can help us change Kashmir as this sector is the key area. You start transferring this technology, he publicly advised him.

Back to the stage after exclusively visiting the orchard, Veeri in his speech talked about his efforts in reviving the horticulture ministry that had been abandoned to rot, apparently by the previous regime.

He said he had 108 sanctioned positions of horticulture officers in his department but 104 were vacant.

Veeri said he is reviving the Market Intervention Scheme (MIS). Besides, he announced that every district will have a soil testing laboratory as a pesticide testing facility will be created one each in Jammu and Srinagar. He also stated that he is piloting a stringent law to stop adulterated pesticides.

On high-density apples, however, Veeri said SKUAST will create an orchard each in Shopian and Pulwama (South Kashmir) while the Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) will do a piece each in Baramulla and Sopore (North Kashmir). Besides, he said the horticulture department will get into all the districts and create similar orchards.

Minister Rebuffed

Red Apple: Late Mufti Sayeed surveying the orchard.

Perhaps the Chief Minister presiding over the function was not expecting his Minister to give a different spin to his ideation. So he publicly rebuffed him in his speech.

“The job that Khurram has done is not easy,” Mufti said. “He is a courageous young man. He demonstrated his capabilities in Lassipora too which I visited.”

“The job that Khurram did should ideally have been done by SKUAST,” Mufti insisted with SKUAST VC in the audience. “But SKUAST is unwilling to come out of the cocoon, it lives in.”

Mufti termed the event and the spot historic. “It will change the fate of Kashmir,” the Chief Minister believes. “This is a new milestone in our history.”

Complimenting Khurram for the wonder he created, Mufti said he considers it the completion of a technology mission. “We are ready for a partnership; tell us what can we do for you?” Mufti asked. “We are with you.”

At this point, Mufti asked for the director of horticulture who was present in the audience. He entrusted him with the job of creating demonstration orchards with Khurram in all apple-producing districts.

Later, the Chief Minister highlighted the role his government has played in protecting the rights of the apple growers from the days he abolished toll tax on fruit exports. “Veeri sahib was shocked when he got this ministry,” Mufti said. “But the horticulture will have the highest allocations ever,” Mufti said he talked in detail with NABARD about the credit requirements in the sector in the coming days.

Mufti highlighted the failure of the government in starting the Fruit Mandi in Bijbehara and also the lack of facilities in Sopore Mandi.

“Every time I ask about Bijbehara Mandi, I am told the earth filling is going on and it is four months now,” Mufti said. “In Sopore I could not see any facility like the online facilities and the quality control or any storage facility.”

Drabu Dream

Dr Haseeb Drabu in this file image.

In his presentation, Mir said he has merely implemented the dream that Finance Minister Dr Haseeb A Drabu has seen. He termed him his mentor.

At this point, the Chief Minister interrupted him saying – go ahead with the dream first.

Later in his speech, Mufti said he was not supposed to be here. “It was not scheduled,” Mufti said. “But Drabu Sahab told him two days back that I should go there well before the orchard has a fruit fall. So I came and am amazed.” Dr Drabu who was also supposed to be part of the function cancelled at the last moment. Mufti told the function that he could not attend the function personally because he was busy with something in Delhi.

Witty Mufti

The Team: These men and women made it happen.
The Team: These men and women made it happen.

Chief Minister was at his wittiest best on Friday. He interrupted almost everybody. When Veeri was speaking to the audience, Mufti was visibly disturbed.

Trying to seek his attention, when Veeri could not see it, Mufti finally interrupted: “Do not speak so loud, they are listening otherwise.” At this point, Deputy Commissioner Muneer Ul Islam went to the public address system manager and reduced the volume. Even Veeri was no more on high-pitch later.

During the presentation when Mir used the word bureaucrats twice, Mufti interrupted: “They are not bureaucrats, they are officers.” Mir immediately apologized.

Even during his speech, Mufti ridiculed the frequent claims that the government makes in speeches and the media. “We all must know ground realities are something very different than the claims we make,” he said to the applause of the audience.

Talking about his earlier stint as agriculture minister during the Sadiq era, Mufti said people in Kashmir sometimes firmly believe in the conspiracy angle. “When I was propagating that we should use more fertilizers and were enabling the farmers, people were saying it was a conspiracy against Kashmir,” he said.


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