by Mumin Gul
SRINAGAR: Unusual early summer has dampened the spirits of Kashmir’s strawberry growers. As the mercury soars, their desperation to harvest increases. Though they manage getting the crop to the market within less than 12 years, the fragile fruit is mostly damaged.
Gaasu Khimber, a small village located in the foot hills of Zabarvan near Batapora, has become famous for cultivation of strawberries. Almost one-fourth of the 300-odd families grow strawberry.
The village, for most of the day, is deserted as the people are in their strawberries fields. The red, juicy fruit is extremely time sensitive. It needs quick packaging and it must reach the Parimpora Mandi during early morning hours.
Growers said a large quantity of production is lost to the heat, putting farmers to a loss. They think had the government invested in some basic infrastructure in the strawberry growing areas, the losses might have been less. They claimed the officials talk and talk and hardly see the plight of the people.
Authorities have their own story. “We do visit and communicate with the growers,” Director of Horticulture, Aijaz Ahmad Bhat said. “Last year we suggested them to adopt inter-cropping method and if the growers need any help from us, we are ready to help.”
The growers, however, said they have been continuously asking for a refrigerated semi-trailer for logistics Official said the production is not enough for 16 tons refrigerated trailers.
Growers said they have been facing sort of a crisis for last few years. “Last couple of years have been tough because of multiple lockdowns,” a grower Abdul Hamid Dar said. “If the government would set up juice, jam or ice cream plant in the area, part of the large fruit production could be adequately utilized.”
Part of the 2022 crisis owes more to the climatic reasons and not the officials.
“I have been in strawberry cultivation for 20 years,” one farmer said. “The fruit needs a moderate temperature to grow but this year’s March heat damaged the production especially because we lacked irrigation facilities.” He said they have been seeking bore wells in the area but it has not been acceded to.
Kashmir grows strawberry in select belts. Apart from Gaasu Khimber, Dhara, the fragile fruit is grown in Tangmarg. The overall production is around 350 metric tons on over 43 hectors of land. In Jammu, in comparison 41 metric ton is produced over around nine hectors of land.
Every day around 3000 trays (carrying around 2kgs each) reach the Parimpora mandi and is sold locally. “Earlier we tried to export it to neighbouring places like Jammu, Punjab, Haryana but it all got spoiled,” Bashir Ahmed Bashir, President of Parimpora Mandi said. “We lack proper infrastructure to increase its shelf life.”
Strawberry, it may be recalled here is quite an impressive fruit if one goes by what it offers. The Vitamin-C rich fruit has lot of fibre and antioxidants and health experts say it is beneficial for maintaining adequate blood pressure.