Despite a good harvest, lychee farmers uncertain about future

15 Jul 2019

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A vendor displays lychees at his roadside stall in Taxila. — Dawn
A vendor displays lychees at his roadside stall in Taxila. — Dawn

TAXILA: Scores of stalls and makeshift kiosks have appeared on the Taxila-Khanpur and Taxila-Hattar roads selling lychee grown in the nearby fertile Punj Khatta area, which is also known for being home to blood oranges.

According to a study conducted by the local crop reporting centre there are four varieties of lychee grown in Khanpur, namely Gola, Surahi, Bedana and Chinese, an official from the centre told Dawn.

The variety being sold on the inter-district route is of Chinese origin, and is unique in flavour and larger in size than the varieties grown in Sindh and Punjab and generally more expensive.

The official said lychee orchards are spread across 2,500 to 3,000 kanals. According to an international study, the fruit is a high paying crop that accounts for more than twice the income from any other fruit crop. Lychees are found largely in China, India, Southeast Asia and South Africa.

He added that Punj Khatta’s soil was rich in organic matter, moist with good drainage and free of artificial components, making it suitable for cultivation.

“Early cultivars are harvested in May and June, and this year there was a good crop in the area due to the timely rain. The production season is short, about a month and a half from late May to early July,” he said.

A farmer, Tahir Durrani, said timely rain this year coupled with an uninterrupted water supply from Khanpur Dam led to a good yield.

He said that under an agreement with the dam authorities, farmers in Punj Khatta are entitled to 56 cusecs of water every day. Lychee orchards need to be watered at least twice a month, and preferably each week, he explained.

But fruit production in the area is in decline, farmer Raja Mohammad Javaid said, attributing this to the rapid commercialisation of arable land in the form of housing societies and public sector construction, as well as a fall in the water table over the last few years.

Sajid Shah, another farmer, also said that the fall in the water table, climate change due to urbanisation and stone-crushing in nearby areas have changed the environment of Punj Khatta.

He added that bats are also a threat to the crop, attacking lychee trees in flocks every year and damaging the fruit pulp.

The lychee is a highly perishable fruit, sold fresh mainly at local and nearby markets, that fetches a good price in big cities, local farm owner Raja Mohammad Kamran said. He said that because of its sensitivity, lychees are packed loosely in baskets to protect them.

The absence of proper packing and storage facilities in areas means lychees cannot be exported and are instead sold at the roadside, he said.

Fawad Ali, who sells lychees at a makeshift stall on the Taxila-Khanpur Road, said the fruit has been affordable this year because of the good harvest.

This year, lychees are being sold for Rs250 to Rs300 per kg, depending on the quality, he said. They have also been in high demand among commuters travelling from Islamabad to other cities via this route.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2019