2 Oct 2020
Kashmir proudly known as the paradise on Earth is well known for its amazing scenic beauty and excellent climate and is a very popular tourist destination. Along with tourism, horticulture also plays a very important role in Kashmir’s economy. Kashmir is home to a large variety of temperate fruits to include Apple, Cherry, Apricot, Walnut etc. It is also the place where one of the best quality saffron in the world is produced. All these crops are harvested in late summer and fall season between July to October starting with Cherry and ending with Walnut. The main factorscontributing to the excellent quality of fruits in Kashmir are soil and climate which are highly favorable and conducive in Kashmir valley. Fruits harvested in Kashmir are not only popular in India but are also relished throughout the world. Large scale cultivation of fruits in Kashmir is an old phenomenon and it finds mention in old scriptures like ‘Raj-tarangini’ 3000 years ago and even in travel accounts including those of famous Chinese traveler Huien Tsang. Horticulture sector today contributes significantly to the state economy and is a source of livelihood for over 3.3 million population in Kashmir.
Apple Harvesting. Kashmiri apple is perhaps the most well-known and popular produce of Kashmir along with walnut. Although it is commonly thought that apple cultivation in the region picked up in the reign of Mughal Emperor Jehangir, it was actually in the period of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin or “Budshah” in 1420s that large
scale commercial cultivation of apples really picked up. Today there are over 100 known varieties of apples under cultivation in Kashmir. The most common areas in Kashmir which are renowned for apple cultivation are Srinagar, Budgam, Pulwama, Anantnag, Sopore and Kupwara. Apple cultivation accounts for over 50% of total land under fruit cultivation in Kashmir making it the most cultivated fruit in Kashmir by far.
Cherry Harvesting. The harvesting of mouthwatering and delicious cherry fruit crop starts in full swing in Kashmir valley by last week of May and ends by first week of July. It is the most prominent fruit in the Valley after apple and walnuts. It is mostly grown parallel to apple trees in orchards and is harvested earlier thus giving the farmer two crops in the same orchard within a span of three months. During the cherry harvesting season, workers from Rajouri and other districts arrive here to earn their livelihood during cherry season in valley. The demand for cherries comes mostly from outside J&K, with almost 90% of the produce headed to different parts of the country, especially metropolitan cities. The initial variety of cherry is the Avval number (first one), which is followed by Double cherry, Gold cherry, Makhmaly and the last and the most demanded is Mishry cherry. A total of 11000 metric tons of Cherries were produced in the year 2019.
Walnut Harvesting. Walnuts also known as Doon in Kashmir Valley belong to family Juglandaceae and Genus Juglans and is believed to have its origin in the fertile crescent and Mesopotamia. The exact period when this wonderful fruit reached Kashmir is unclear however today it is the second most prominent horticulture produce in the valley after apples. Walnut has been historically and culturally a significant tree generally associated with richness, well-being and abundance. In Italy, the proverb “Walnut and bread, a meal of the King”, shows the importance of walnuts as food and hence walnut is a versatile nut in many recipes across the world. Walnut tree has been appreciated for centuries for its fruit as well as wood which is utilized in several ways. Walnut is in-fact called ‘Brain Nut’ for its extraordinary high concentration of Omega-3 which is excellent for brain health. Walnuts in valley are widely known for their superior taste, flavour, aroma and quality & are in popular demand worldwide. The state produces about 1.5 Lakh tonnes of walnut from an area of 87280 hectares. Walnut cultivation is common in almost entire Kashmir valley with the highest quality being cultivated in Kupwara, Baramulla, Bandipora, Gandarbal and outskirts of Srinagar.
Saffron Cultivation. Also known as ‘gold’ in edible form, Kesar is a common name in Indian household. Saffron cultivation in Kashmir valley has its historical roots from Iran where world’s 70 per cent of saffron is produced.Saffron is the slender, dried, redish-brown, flattened stigma of cultivated saffron plant (Crocus Sativus) and is an important yet expensive condiment used in medicines and foods. Finding its use as a flavouring agent in Indian sweet dishes and native systems of medicine such as ayurveda, the cultivation of saffron is a traditional art. It has medicinal properties and is considered as a panacea for numerous diseases of males and females. It is a very sensitive plant and the best quality grows in specialized soil deposits called Karewas which are rich in glacial clay and moraines. Pampore near Srinagar is rich in Karewass oil deposits. Naturally Pampore and its neighboring areas produce one of the highest grade of Saffron in the world with average crop yield being around 2200 kilograms every year. Saffron is one of the important cash crop in Kashmir and provides employment to about 5 per cent of the total rural workforce in the Valley of Kashmir.
Way Ahead. The last year has been especially challenging for horticulture sector of Kashmir in view of disruption post abrogation of Article 370 and 35A followed by COVID-19 emergency. Government from time to time has taken measures to support the horticulture sector however there is scope for further improvement. Although Kashmir accounts for a large supply of high-quality fruits like Apple, Walnuts, Cherries, etc. in India, the revenue has seen stagnation over past 15-20 years in per capita terms in-spite of steady increase in yield. The primary reason being lack of reliable transportation facility for speedy move of the produce from the valley.Most of the horticulture produce coming out of Kashmir is in primary form, ie, fruits which naturally have a limited shelf life and large variation in price depending on grade of fruit. Effective measures that can raise net income of cultivators in medium term include establishment of food processing plants to produce secondary products like jam, marmalade, juices, etc, and create a reliable cold chain network to ensure hassle free transportation of produce without fear of degradation in quality. With removal of various administrative bottlenecks in past one year and slew of measures on cards it is appreciated that the horticulture sector as a whole in Kashmir is likely to see rapid growth and better days in near future.