Weekly Bang-e-sahar karachi Saturday, August 30, ——September 5, 2008
By Tika Khan
Cherry is a cherished fruit tree in Pakistan as well as in other parts of the world. Balochistan is called ‘fruit-basket of the country’; however, Northern Areas is not behind in any case. Due to communication problems, Gilgit-Baltistan is not depicted on the national agricultural landscape. However, enabling climatic and environmental conditions prevailing in the area provide a great opportunity to grow a wide range of fruit variety besides a good number of cash crops that has been prominent on the country’s agricultural profile for the last decade. Moreover, the Federal Crop Reporting Services has neglected Gilgit-Baltistan and never properly highlighted the region’s resources.
According to the botanical research, wild cherry has given rise to the sweet cherry. The word “cherry” comes from the French language ‘‘cerise’’, which comes in turn from the Latin words ‘Cerasum’ and ‘Cerasus’. Cherry by its origin is believed to be native of Persia and traveled to Rome and onward to Europe before spreading all over the globe. According to the modern taxonomic classification techniques, it is classified into the group of apples and apricots and there are 27 species of cherry. In Gilgit-Baltistan, like any other part of the world, it is the first tree fruit to ripen. However, some species of cherry are grown purely for their flowers and decorative value. The most common of these sterile cherries is the cultivar ‘Kanzan’.
According to the data published by the United States Department of Agriculture, its nutritional value per 100g (3.5 oz) is equal to 60 kcal 260 kJ energy; Carbohydrates 16g and Sugars 13g; dietary fiber 2g; Fat 0.2g; protein1.1g; vitamin C 7mg and Iron 0.4mg.
Around 75 percent of world production originates in Europe and the Traverse City, Michigan claims to be the ‘‘Cherry Capital of the World’’. According to the Crop Reporting Services of Provinces in Pakistan, only Balochistan produces cherry in an area of 978 hectares and produce 1,629 tons of cherry (2006-2007). Since 2001, this quantity has not moved beyond this limit except 2004-2005 when a small fragment had reached to the height of 2,080 metric tons.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, cherry is grown from Gilgit and onward. For the first time Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) introduced this fruit in the region in 1975 to improve the agricultural practices in the area to reduce poverty. Three varieties of cherry cultivated in the Northern Areas are France, Desi (local) and Surkh (Red). They contribute to the total production by 40%, 40% and 20%, respectively. However, the farmers sell these varieties at different rates i.e. 70, 50 and 20 rupees, respectively.
Northern Areas produces a total of 417 metric tons (2007-2008), generating an amount of 20.85 million rupees. Out of seven districts only four of them produce cherry are Hunza/Nagar (53%), Gilgit (25%), Skardu (5.4%) and Ghizir (16.2%). Second to Balouchistan, Hunza produces the highest quantities of cherry in Pakistan. Maximum production of cherry per kanal was recorded in Nasirabad, Hunza where few farmers having orchards generated 117647 (0.12 million) rupees per kanal which is a record of itself in Pakistan.
Rural farmers have cultivated the mountain patches much wisely and have produced a wide variety of heavenly fruits in the area. However, over the decades, mountain farmers have been suffering from poor farm to market infrastructure, agricultural technology, fertilizers, pest control services, soil-testing facilities, marketing agencies, agricultural financial services, packaging and irrigation issues etc.
Moreover, the absence of cold storages and air-conditioned transportation facilities for fruits like cherries increase the risks of damage to fruits. There is also a need to ensure supply of fertilizers to the fruit growers at subsidized rates.
Agencies working in the field of agriculture should encourage the local farmers to form alliances and improve their production and marketing strategies to optimize the potential of the area to reflect in the national annual revenues and GDP. Lot of efforts has to be done in this regard to improve the livelihood of the mountain farmers in the years ahead. Northern Areas offer a great agro-ecological potential to scale up the cherry production and a variety of fruit and crops that can positively influence the existing rural poverty situation in the area. My special thanks goes to all the cherry contractors and arties working across Northern Areas for providing information and data during my survey.