Among the varieties of fruits in Kashmir, cherry is considered as one of the vital fruits in recent times. Its growth provides mid-year economic relief to arborists and laborers when all sources of horticultural sector income are closed since most other fruit is harvested in the fall.
The history of cherry cultivation is not new to the valley. However, it experienced a decline for about a decade between 2007 and 2017 due to frequent rains in late spring.
But once the high density varieties were imported from Italy and Holland a few years ago, the industry was revived and many people chose to grow the fruit in many parts of Kashmir. This helped keep the valley’s horticulture-dependent economy afloat and running.
Bilal Ahmad Lone, a horticulture expert, told Rising Kashmir that traditional varieties are prone to cracking after rain, but new varieties imported by horticulture department from European countries are rain resistant to a large extent by compared to traditional varieties.
In Kashmir, more than a dozen varieties of cherries are grown, including Mishri, Dabal, Siya, Awal-number, Italy, Jadi and Makhmali. Except for Dabal, all varieties of cherries develop a red color as they ripen which is highly valued in parts like Maharashtra and Delhi of the country.
Kashmir produces an average of around 15,000 metric tons of cherries every year. Shopian in south Kashmir and Ganderbal and Srinagar in central Kashmir are the biggest cherry producers. After the induction of high-density cherry varieties, the fruit is produced almost in all districts.
The Shopian district alone produces about eight metric tons of lake cherries thus contributing half of Kashmir’s production.
Muhammad Rafiq Khan, a fruit trader from Pulwama, said early ripening varieties are not getting good rates due to quality issues. “Once the good quality varieties mature, they are sent to Father Mandis unlike the early varieties,” he said.
He said that so far they have not witnessed any upward shift in market rates due to heavy tourist footfall.
According to experts, high-density varieties are not only resistant to rain, but also provide bumper crops a few years after planting.
“Before 2010, we grew about 3,000 boxes of cherries, but when rain affected production for many years, we cut trees and planted apple trees in these places. But once the high density was introduced, it provided us with a great opportunity to increase our income again,” Sayar Ahmad, an arborist from Losedenow village told Shopian.
Losedenow is one of the major cherry growing villages in South Kashmir and almost all varieties of fruit are grown in the village. Locals are busy picking the siyah variety, which ripens first in the season.
Abdul Razaq Khatana, a laborer from Rajouri, Jammu, who used to come to Kashmir to earn a living for a decade, said before a few years, they come to Kashmir at the end of summer, but once that the arborists needed labor for cherry picking and packing, they now arrive at the end of March.
As arborists are free during the season between late spring and early fall, there were fewer opportunities for manual laborers. Once the cherry sector has been stimulated, it provides jobs for hundreds of workers. Guest workers from other states of the country as well as from the Rajouri district of the valley could be seen with baskets in the cherry orchards in the village of Losedanow. Early in the morning, the main chowk of the city is filled with these laborers looking for work.
According to arborists, once they start growing cherry trees, they get a mid-year income that helps them both pay for fertilizer and fungicide expenses without taking the throughputs they used to have. habit of picking until autumn.
They said it also helps them run their day-to-day money affairs smoothly.
According to official data, 2020 and 2021 were excellent years for cherries as the weather in both years remained pleasant for cherry production. In 2021, a kilogram of the box of cherries was sold for between Rs 150 and 220 at the door and these prices are considered to be the highest in the last decade.
On the one hand, the covid19 pandemic has caused heavy losses to the Indian economy, and the Kashmir horticultural industry has also suffered by limiting the visitation of tourists in the valley who bought a large piece of cherry during their visit to Kashmir. This year, fruit growers are hoping for good market rates due to the record number of tourists visiting Kashmir this year.
Last year, the government’s 25% subsidiary J&K on the transport of cherries by plane and refrigerated trucks boosted cherry production. Thanks to this scheme, the fruits reached different parts of India in a short time, thus preventing the fruits from spoiling.
The program also helped bring the produce to larger people and more distant locations and once the fruit reached a larger population it saw good demand and hence good market rates.
Muhammad Amin Pir, president of Mega fruit Mandi Aglar Shopian, told Rising Kashmir that this year’s cherry rates are low compared to last year. He said bumper cherry crops this year and wet weather could be possible reasons for the lower rates.
“We hope rates will increase once the best cherry varieties are harvested and weather conditions improve for the fruit,” he said.
Pir said the focus should be more on high-density cherries than apples as the land of Kashmir is fertile enough for the best cherry production. Currently, cherry prices are Rs 60 for Siya, Rs 80 for Makhmali and Rs 120 for the early Italian variety, he added. Even the good influx of tourists to the valley has not helped to improve the rates.
Muhammad Irfan Mir, an arborist from Ganderbal, said frequent rains in recent days could harm their crops. He said most of the produce from his area had matured. The frequent rains of the previous weeks had caused cracks in its production, thus spoiling it. It won’t bring him anything in the market, resulting in economic loss like in previous years.
According to official data, Kashmir produces over 15 lake metric tons of cherries, making it the largest cherry producing state in the country. Jammu and Kashmir has a total of 2317 hectares of land cultivated with cherries.
The cherry is one of the first fresh fruits to be harvested at the end of May and ends at the end of June.
Bashir Ahmad Bashir, chairman of Mandi ParimporaSrinagar fruits and vegetables, told Rising Kashmir that last year’s losses suffered by owners of cherry processors are the main reason for the drop in rates. He said food processing units had been unable to sell their products for the past two years due to pandemics and lockdowns.
“Srinagar Mandi alone receives more than three boxes of cherry lake a day.”
However, Mega fruit Mandi Aglar Shopian is one of the leading Mandis in South Kashmir which besides selling district produce testifies to a large number of boxes of cherries from Ganderbal, Srinagar and Bandipora in central Kashmir .