“We have lost thousands of apple trees to dry spell that continued from 1998 to 2004 and again due to recent dry spell. Also, the security forces axed all the trees in the orchards soon after the forcibly took over them. Similarly, at different places in the state, government is also acquiring horticulture land for the official purposes,”
As more and more farmers are turning to the apple growing and converting the land into orchards, however, there is a new worry that is causing restlessness among the Valley growers. The Kashmiri fruit growers and traders have asked the J&K government not to acquire horticulture land for any official purposes.
The growers fear that acquiring of the horticulture land for official purposes will reduce the fruit production in the state. J-K is the only state in the country that has around 2.75 lakh hectares of land under the horticulture and major portion of this land is used for the cultivation of fresh fruits especially apples and other varieties of the fresh fruit. “The government should come up with a law for banning the use of horticulture land for any official purpose,” Ghulam Rasool Bhat who heads the society of fruit growers in Kashmir and have thousands of apple growers as its members. He said that in Western countries, the government has already banned use of horticulture land for any official purposes and similar type of ban should also be imposed in the Jammu and Kashmir as well.
“If steps are not taken time will come soon when we will lose major portion of our orchards as the many growers are also constructing houses in the orchards.”
The J&K government to promote the horticulture sector has declared this year as the year of apple. J&K’s Horticulture Minister, Bashaarat Bukhari said that government is in a process of taking several steps to promote and enhance the production of apple and other fresh fruits.
“The government is already working on a plan to convert old orchards into High density plantation and the introduction of HD plantation will help to increase the production of fruit in the Valley and also the growers could compete at an international level.’’
As per the fruit growers in the last two decades, the growers have lost thousands of kanals of horticulture land either to J&K government or to the security forces. Alone, 11,000 kanals of orchard land is under the Army occupation the land was forcibly taken from the growers soon after the militancy began in Kashmir. The growers who were asking for vacation of their land are being given rent by the security forces. Many growers complained that land taken by the army has lost its value.
“We have lost thousands of apple trees to dry spell that continued from 1998 to 2004 and again due to recent dry spell. Also, the security forces axed all the trees in the orchards soon after the forcibly took over them. Similarly, at different places in the state, government is also acquiring horticulture land for the official purposes,” Bhat said adding that government should discourage from taking the land that is under the orchards.
Bhat said the fruit production is already coming down in the state and the quality wise the fruit is far behind as the growers are not given proper incestives to upgrade their orchards.
“This time our fresh and dry fruit production should have been around 35 lakh metric tons. But, it’s hovering around 15 to 18 lakhs only,” he said.
Horticulture is the Kashmir ’s biggest trade with one million families is directly dependent on it. “Both government and the growers should be made accountable for saving the horticulture land in the state,” said Abdul Rashid a young grower. “’Not only government at times some growers are responsible for selling their orchards for business purposes. Even many farmers and fruit growers are constructing houses by axing apple trees.’’
The government is already aware with the problems faced by the fruit industry and with the help of private entrepreneurs the government is already planting high density apple trees across the Valley. Though growers are sceptical of adopting the new technology, however, officials said that good benefits and competition will force the growers to go for high density plantation across Kashmir.
“The high density plantation is the need of the day, if the growers will not adopt this technique, they will be in the loss. The government has already introduced several schemes to help the growers. It will be success only if more and more growers will go for this plantation,’’ said a senior Horticulture Official.