The Cherry Story

The major cherry belt in central Kashmir was afflicted by a disease in 2003 which had brought down the production. However, with government coming to the rescue of growers, there has been a significant rise in production in the last decade, Ruwa Shah reports.

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Abdul Ahad Bhat, 90, a native of Watalbagh in Lar village which is located some 30 kilometres from Srinagar used to be a major cherry grower in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. His 32 kanals of land which sits parallel to a tributary of River Sindh fetched a produce of about 3500 boxes of cherry; each box containing five kilograms.

“The different species of cherry which included Sharp Red coloured, Blackish Red and Makhmali Red used to enrich our orchard,” Bhat said, recalling his cherry orchard which stood on his land a decade ago.

In 2003, Bhat’s cherry trees were afflicted by ‘Kraankh’ which destroyed the orchard. Bhat destroyed the orchard and instead planted Apple trees. Now, only few old trees of cherry stand in the orchard. “Unaware about the disease and its treatment, we had to replace cherry trees and instead plant apple trees,” Bhat said.

The disease didn’t affect Bhat’s orchard alone. Many cherry growers had to bear the losses as well. Without any plan or guidance from the government, the cherry orchards in Ganderbal were slowly replaced by apple orchards.

“The government didn’t guide us. We lacked knowledge and technical support which could have helped us to save our orchards,” said Mohammad Yusuf, another fruit grower who has an Apple orchard.

“The loss was due to the weather changes in some particular areas. The land was no longer good for cherry,” Akhtar Hussain, Deputy Director, Department of Horticulture, said.

The good news is that the production of cherry has increased manifold in the last decade. In 2005-2006, 2880 metric tonnes of cherry were produced which jumped to 11,629 metric tonnes in 2012. “The increase is due to the increase in the area of production which includes Tangmarg, Dhaara and Nishat belt. Also, the plantation provided to growers under Horticulture Mission for North and East Himalayan States (HMNEH) scheme have proved beneficial,” Hussain said.

The season of cherries lasts for a very short period in Kashmir from mid-May to mid-July. A temperate weather suits the growth of the fruit. “At this time, the state produces about 11,629 metric tonnes of cherries of which about 80 percent is exported,” Akhtar Hussain said.

A major portion of cherry goes to markets in Mumbai where about 35000 boxes are sent every year. Other states where cherry is exported from Kashmir include Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai where around 15000-20000 boxes are exported every year.

The fruit is sometimes transported from Kashmir to other parts through air transport which costs fruit dealers dearly. “We had asked the government that export should be done only through rail but they didn’t do anything,” Bashir Ahmad, President of New Kashmir Fruit Association, Parimpora Fruit Mandi in Srinagar said.

Canning industry is another consumer of cherries produced in Kashmir, “We do not have many industries which utilise cherry for canning purposes. Thus most of it is exported”, Akhtar Hussain said. Small canning units of Kashmir utilise the fruit mostly to be used for ornamental and bakery purposes.

Akhtar said that the government is planning to provide incentives to the growers under the central scheme of HMNEH for stone (drupe) fruits. Currently, the incentives provided by the government include raw material for fencing of orchards and cultivation.

In Kashmir, a total area of 3699 hectares is being used for cherry cultivation. A major belt on the outskirts of Srinagar city which includes Harwan, Brein, Dhaara and Zakura produce the highest yield. In north Kashmir, district Baramulla Tangmarg and few areas surrounding Sopore town are known for cherry production while some areas of Shopian in south Kashmir also grow cherry.

Five varieties of cherry are grown in Kashmir. ‘Mishri’ is the most expensive and sweetest. The next is ‘double cherry’ which is grown in bulk and has a great market in state and outside as well. It is used mainly for canning, juice extraction and jam making. ‘Makhmali’, ‘black or gol’ and ‘awal number’ are also grown here. The highest price at which the cherry is sold is Rs 200 per box. On an average, a box costs between Rs 100-200.

“The cherry yield is supposed to be good only when the climate favours. Otherwise the industry suffers a great loss because the fruit is very mild. One kanal of land can have almost 20-25 trees. The produce per tree depends upon the age and specie of the tree,” he said.

The members of Parimpora Fruit Mandi in Srinagar had sought scientific and technical guidance from agricultural scientists in order to cut down losses in case of unsuitable weather. “Certain techniques save the crop from being destroyed at the peak of its ripening time. But the SKAUST scientists didn’t provide us with any such information,” Bashir Ahmad said.

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