Heavy rains in early March left behind a ray of hope for wheat growers but only worries about fruit crops among orchard owners in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

KP’s central districts, including Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Nowshera, and Swabi received heavy downpour from March 8 —11, which would help recuperate the standing wheat crop in these areas. However, fruit growers are left with little chance of a good harvest this season, as fruit orchards in KP’s central districts and the adjoining Malakand region lost blossoming flowers on fruit trees.

Plum, peach, apricot and loquat orchards were the worst-hit, according to growers and fresh fruit dealers.

Naimat Shah Roghani, vice president of KP’s Anjuman-e-Kashtkaran, said rains came at the wrong time of the season for fruit growers. “Farmers may get 40 per cent less produce this season.”

Similar views were expressed by Rizwanullah, president of KP’s Kissan Board.

Central KP districts and the Malakand region have a good many fruit orchards that produce delicious plum, peach, apricot and loquat. Thousands of farming families and fresh fruit dealers depend on the seasonal harvest.

According to growers and fruit dealers, the first 10 to 15 days of March every year tend to be crucial for fruit orchards.. During this period, fruit trees receive flowers that develop into fruit. Heavy rains during these days destroy the fragile blossoming flowers.

“This is what has happened this time; the rains came when they were least needed [for fruit orchard owners],” said Malack Navid, a fresh fruit dealer, who takes peach and plump orchards on Ijara (rent) every season.

“Fruit orchards will end up with 25-30 per cent less produce this year as compared to the previous year,” said Mr Navid.

According to him, fruit orchards in Tangi, Harrichaund, Batkhela, Abazi, Shabqadar, Taru, Akbarpura, Dargai and parts of Peshawar were lashed by the downpour. “Apricot, peach and plum trees were the worst-hit.” Farmers from Nowshera and Swat also reported damage to fruit orchards.

However, the rains brought a sigh of relief for the province’s wheat growers. The downpour left them with the hope of recovering some of their losses.

The standing wheat crop in the rain-fed (Barani) parts of the province benefited the most from the recent heavy rains, when they needed the water.

The crop had already suffered from slow growth and termite attack due to no-to-little rains in the December-January period of this cropping season.

Roghani said wheat growers in Gandhab and other rain-fed areas in Mardan had been praying for rains for the past two weeks, as their lands were getting drier due to lack of irrigation water.

The Kissan Board’s provincial president also said the rains benefited the crop in the Malakand region, including Malakand agency, Butkhela, and Chakdarra.

He said farmers would have benefited more if there had been rains between February 15 and February 20, when their cultivated lands most needed water.

According to Abdul Samad Saafi, general secretary of the Kissan Board in Nowshera district, wheat growers in his area were expecting to recover, at least, their cost of production, if not more, because of the recent rains.

Apart from improving crops, the rains would also help farmers get some fodder for their cattle, and they would be able to get seed out of the harvest for the next cultivation as well.

Wheat cultivation season in KP begins every May, when the weather starts turning hot in the plains. The province produces slightly over one million tonnes of wheat every year. This helps it meet its one-third of the KP’s annual wheat consumption requirement. About 52 per cent of the local produce comes from Barani areas of the province.

Saafi said the land under wheat cultivation in both the rain-fed and canal-fed areas was getting drier because of irrigation water shortages. The Barani area crop was suffering because of low-to-no rains.

On the other side, the canal-dependent lands were short of water at this point of time due to the closure of the watercourses because of the annual canal cleaning.

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