MINGORA: Although trade activities have been affected badly in Swat during the holy month of Ramazan owing to prolonged power outages, yet fruit orchards have become a source of income for thousands of daily wagers in the district.
Known for its delicious fruits, the orchard-rich Swat valley provides some of the best peaches to the country’s fruit markets from late May to September.
Besides tourism, horticulture is another sector which plays key role in the economy of Swat. Swat valley is one of the major peach producing areas in the country.
According agriculture extension department, having over 13,000 hectares land for cultivation of different fruits, Swat produced up to 100,000 tonnes of fruits in 2014. Of the total production, 23,940 tonnes were peaches.
Ashmat Khan, owner of peach orchards in Charbagh, told this scribe that he earned handsome income from his orchards. He said that he himself dealt everything related to the orchards.
“Peaches of Swat have high demand in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Lahore and other fruit markets. We send an average of 200 boxes daily to the fruit market. The peaches of my orchard are easily sold at over Rs800 per box,” Mr Khan said. However, some the orchard owners complained of lack of interest by the government in the fruit orchards.
Bakth Alam, an orchard owner, who lives in Jahanabad area of Manglawar, has been working in the field for more than 15 years.
He said that business of peaches was beneficial but it needed hard labour for good production.
“It needs good fertilisers, pesticides and other medicines which are very expensive. The government should support us in this regard,” he told Dawn.
Mr Alam said that he sent his produce to the fruit markets of Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar.
Usually about 12 persons work at a small orchard. Some of them pick the fruits from trees, some grade and pack them and others transport them to the market.
A large number of local transporters also earn reasonable income during the fruits production period.
About 200 trucks transport peaches to different fruit markets of the country daily. Khalilur Rehman, a truck driver from Rawalpindi, regularly comes to Swat during fruit season.
“Not only, peaches of Swat are lovely, the weather of the valley is also very pleasant. We come here and get double benefit. We do business and also enjoy the beauty of the scenic valley,” he said.
The peach orchards are also a source of earning livelihood for the poor communities, who work in the orchards as pickers, packers, porters and loaders. Over 10, 000 families are associated with the peach orchards in Swat.
Hazrat Ali, a labourer, who picks fruits in the orchards, said that he earned Rs500 daily for picking fruits at the orchards. “Those who pack peaches in the cartons get Rs700 daily,” he added.
Dr Abdul Rauf, principal research officer horticulture, told Dawn that due to suitable climate, fertile soil and plenty of water in Swat, the quality of local peaches was better from that of others in the country.
“Due to the extensive research by the agriculture research center in Swat, 12 commercial varieties are grown here. Each variety gets ready to be sold in the market after a gap of 12 to 15 days,” he said.
Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2015