Srinagar May 25: Like previous year, farmers in Kashmir are reaping a bumper strawberry and cherry crops this season but the COVID-19 lockdown has become a worrisome for the growers.
Season’s first cash crops strawberry and cherry in Kashmir are being harvested by farmers between May 15 to June 15.
However, growers are starring losses for the second consecutive year due to the pandemic.
With less transportation and fruit mandis across the country being shut, farmers say they are not able to dispatch these soft fruits like cherry and strawberry as there is less demand from people amid the lockdown across the country.
Mohammad Sidiq, a farmer who grows cherry on one hectare of land in Srinagar said the harvesting season has started. “Like last year, we fear heavy losses as we could not transport cherry in markets in New Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat due to lockdown. Every year, I would earn Rs 4 lakh from cherry cultivation. More than 70 percent of the crop spoiled last year. It could not be transported and has a shelf-line for less than five days so I earned just Rs one lakh,” he told news agency Kashmir Indepth News Service (KINS).
He said traders would dispatch eight trucks of cherry daily in various markets of the country. “We have no hope this year as we fear heavy losses this time also,” he added.
According to official figures of the Horticulture Department, Kashmir annually yields around 13,000 tons of cherry fruit being cultivated over 2700 hectares of land. It is significantly grown at Tangmarg, Lar, Harwan, and several areas of Shopian district in Kashmir valley.
Mohammad Sharif, a farmer at Srinagar’s Hazratbal area said the shelf life of strawberry is just three days. “This fruit is being airlifted to various places like Delhi and Mumbai and has to be consumed within a few days. As there is a lockdown across the country, we won’t be able to transport the fruit. We can’t even find local buyers as Kashmir is also under lockdown. The situation looks very grim as farmers won’t be able to sell strawberry even in local markets,” Sharif added.
The strawberries grown in Kashmir always remain in demand as they are very rich in sugar content then strawberry grown in other parts and importantly it is historically used for medicinal use.
President fruit growers association Kashmir, Bashir Ahmad said the COVID has impacted every sector. “We faced losses last year. We hope the situation improves across the country so we could send our fruits to Mandis in various states,” he added.
Horticulture is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy with seven lakh families directly and indirectly associated with the sector. The horticulture contributes seven percent to the Gross State Domestic Product of Jammu and Kashmir.
Meanwhile, a senior official of the Horticulture Department said they were aware of the problems being confronted by the fruit growers. “Government has issued an order to ensure hassle free movement of fruit growers and traders in Kashmir. But it will be very different to send fruits to outside Kashmir markets due to lockdown,” the official said.
According to an order issued by district collector Srinagar, “In view of harvest of strawberry and cherry crops Parimpora Mandi in Srinagar can open between 5 am to 11 am, only for loading, unloading, packaging and dispatching. There shall be no general public entry into the Mandi. Curfew passes will be issued to concerned traders on the recommendations of the area marketing officer Srinagar.” (KINS)