Militancy left Malakand fruits to rot in farms

Post Source: (DAWN) By Ali Hazrat Bacha
Friday, 24 Jul, 2009

Merchants earned millions of rupees every season, mostly by exporting fruits, but this year they could not even meet their expenses. They demanded compensation for their losses. – File photo

Merchants earned millions of rupees every season, mostly by exporting fruits, but this year they could not even meet their expenses. They demanded compensation for their losses. – File photo

PESHAWAR: Owing to militancy and the subsequent military operation against troublemakers in the Malakand division, fruit dealers and owners of orchards suffered heavy financial losses.

Due to the prolonged curfews and displacement of people, hundreds of tons of fruits and vegetables got rotted and could not be transported from farms to markets, which also caused shortage of different sorts of fruits in the markets.

A group of merchants in the local fruit market told Dawn that fruits like plum, apricot and peach were also grown in Surizi, Hazarkhwani, Ormar, Khazana, Naguman, Harichand and Charsadda but their quality did not match that of Swat, Dir and other Malakand areas.

‘In the past we rarely purchased the fruits grown in Peshawar due to their low quality, but this year we had no other option because supply of fruits had stopped from Malakand due to curfews,’ said a trader, Ibrahim.

He said a crate of fine quality Swat peaches weighing up to 8kg was available for Rs150 to Rs200 the previous year, but this year the same quantity of peaches grown in Peshawar was sold for up to Rs600.

Previously, fine quality fruits were mostly exported and merchants earned millions of rupees every season, but this year they even could not meet their routine expenditures.

Abid Khan, an owner of a fruit orchard in Matta, said a majority of people in upper Swat were dealing in the fruit business and had no other source of income but as the operation was launched the residents had to flee the area.

He said fruits were grown in the entire Swat region but some areas like Chuprial, Sher Palam, Naukhara, Bar Thana, Shawar, Sambat, Peer Kalay, Malam Jabba, Matta, Sakhra, Darmai, Tal, Dardyal, Bandai, Kabal, Sinpura, Arkot, Bagh Deri, Nazarabad, Khariri, Drushkhela, Madyan, Behrain were famous for different kinds of fruits.

An agriculture researcher, who wished not to be named, said militants had destroyed most of the nurseries and orchards owned by the elders of Swat. He said people used to grow fruits on at least four per cent of the Swat area.

The fruits which are commonly grown in the Malakand division include plum, apricot, peaches, apple, walnut, etc.

A fruit contractor of Barikot, Fazal Maula Khan, told Dawn that he had purchased fruit orchards of plum, apricot and peach in the villages of Gogdara, Barikot, Kabal and Rahimabad worth Rs7 million but the fruits could not be transported to markets due to curfews.

About curfew passes issued to farmers, he said the passes were given to a limited number of people who could not hire daily-wagers and arrange packing materials. He said farmers had to share a truck and transport only a few crates in a trip leaving behind the rest of fruits.

Akhtar Hussain also owns an orchard in Malam Jabba and is nowadays living in a government school as IDP. He said he used to sell peaches of Rs500,000 to Rs600,000 in a season but this year all the fruit got rotted because he could not arrange the required spray for the orchard.

‘We have to spray insecticides on the fruits every fortnight otherwise the fruits get rotted and fall automatically,’ he said, adding that in the current season no farmer could arrange the spray due to curfews.

Another farmer, Umer Ali of Drushkhela, said peaches once plucked from tree needed to be transported to market within three days, apple from one week to 15 days and apricots and plums within five days, otherwise they got rotted.

Very few farmers, he said, had tried to transport peaches to different markets via Shangla but the transportation charges were so heavy that the price of per kilogramme peach had reached Rs80, which was beyond the purchasing power of the common man.

The merchants said they had paid millions of rupees to orchard owners in advance, but fruits could not be transported in the prevailing circumstances, adding it also led to disputes among the owners and traders because under the agreements the farmers were demanding full payment for their fruits.

They demanded that the government should issue permits to traders for transporting packing materials to orchards. They also demanded compensation to the people for their losses.

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