Fruit farming in Swat
Fruits of temperate climates are popular all over the world. In Pakistan, apples have been grown as commercial fruit in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for long. Because of its attractive income, apple plantation was taken up by growers in Swat, Dir, Mansehra, Parachinar, Chitral, Hunza, North and South Waziristan Agencies.
District Swat is the most important of all the apple producing districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It covers an area of approximately 4000 square miles within the Malakand Division. This is mainly a river valley surrounded by mountains, which also have fertile valleys feeding into the main Swat Plain.
Swat grows various kinds of fruits though apples and peaches are the major production. The fruit trees were not always in an integrated position in the district. They were scattered until the inhabitants of the area took interest in this aspect of agriculture and brought vast tracts of soil under the plantation of fruit trees. Farmers equipped themselves with skills of horticulture and learned to graft various trees. Consequently, we see the famous orchards present in Swat. The natural calamities of recent years have had a devastating effect on these orchards but their production is retained with a steady recovery.
The orchards of Swat are more organized and more productive. Horticulture started first in Matta Sub-division (Upper Swat) on commercial scale; therefore, this zone is very advanced now. The main item of the orchards is apple, though other fruits like damson, grapes, pears, loquat, apricots, and prune etc. are also planted, but they are on small scales. These orchards earn more money for the owners.
Some of the famous orchards in Upper Swat are at Kooz Sherpalam, Bar Sherpalam, Matta, Jora, Shanguatai, Arkot, Biakan, and Ronyal. There are large and vast gardens in Jankikhel. The eastern bank of Swat River is also covered with gardens. Farmers have also covered small areas for gardens, yet they cannot be counted as orchards. Farmers have increasingly for fruit gardening due to high income. This tendency has raised the competition among orchard owners, so much so that it has a considerable impact on food crops in the area.
The orchards of Baboozee sub-division in Swat are multi-fruit gardens and thus different from Matta. Orange, loquat, pear, damson, peach, apricot etc. have been planted here, but the chief item of these orchards is orange. The largest fruit gardens are in Barikot. In Shangla Par, the walnut, mulberry, pears, and grapes grow well, but due to the unsuitable transport system, attention has not been given to horticulture in this area. There are certain areas like Buner which are not extensively involved in horticulture due to an irregular supply of water. However, with the increasing introduction of tubewells the condition is changing. Further, in Kohistan-e-Swat, Utror is the chief producer of apples.
The fruits from Swat are recognized for high quality. The product is not only a source of income for the farmers and dealer, a hundreds of other people like local transporters, loaders, pickers and packers are directly dependent on the orchards of Swat.
In the current floods scenario, according to District Officer Agriculture (Extension), several campaigns have been organized to remove standing water and sand from the orchards to minimize the loss after floods. Along with giving technical support to NGOs working in the area, the authorities are also organizing programmes for pruning, capacity building and spreading awareness among the locals to preserve the significant asset of orchards. Other than the financial support from the government of Pakistan, the Italian government is under way to provide 400,000 saplings and young plants would be distributed to the affected farmers.
A comparison of the international market with that of Pakistan reveals that there is great potential for export growth of fruit provided some special concessions are allowed to this industry to flourish. The surrounding export potential markets for Pakistani fruits are Bahrain, Bangladesh, Dubai, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) has been making concerted efforts to promote the export of non-traditional items, with the objective to diversifying the country’s exports. Accordingly, the Bureau started organizing an apple show at Quetta in 1994. These shows have generated great interest among the growers and exporters of apples. Various varieties of apples, grown in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are displayed in the shows namely; Top Red, Red Spur, Kala Kulu, Super Gold, Red Chief, Apple Elite, Stark Crimson, Oregon Spur, Red Rom Beauty, Royal Gala, Spartan and Double Red etc.
The TDAP is also engaged in acquainting the farmers with the export trends. For this the purpose TDAP organizes seminars in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to disseminate basic information of modern concepts of international trade and lead businessmen from orchards to enter into the export market