Those who have tasted the various plum varieties of Swat know that these are no ordinary produce. The lush fruits have been tantalizing the taste buds of people all across the country and are adored for their distinct saccharine taste and juice content.
The plums, which range from Red Beauty, Black Diamond and Yellow gage varieties, provide a considerable business to the local farmers, and also to all those involved in the fruit’s production and distribution during the harvest season — which lasts from May till November. The plums are mainly exported to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad and Peshawar.
But though the Swati plums have carved a sizeable market down south, not all is well in the northern front. Locals say that a sizeable portion of the fruit produce gets wasted every year.
Without proper roads, the orchards are inaccessible and as a result a significant portion of the fruit yield is left to rot, said Zahoor, an owner of the Plum orchard in Manglawar. He said that apart from the lack of connecting roads, mismanagement on part of the government is also to blame for the loss.
He said if the government sets up plants to manufacture jams and juices of the plums on a large scale, it will not only benefit the local farmers but also provide impetus to the local fruit industry. He added that as plums have no starch, they can be easily preserved into jam and jellies.
Zahoor said that due to the lack of roads and plants to manufacture value-added products from the plums, the plum orchards have been decreasing day by day and the fruit production has reduced to half in the past decade. He also urged the government to help the farmers tackle plant diseases and improve the yield of Swat’s plum varieties, which have enjoyed a sizeable share of the market over the years.
Thought Swat’s Red Beauty and Black Diamond plums are the two varieties that have remained in high demand, locals say that the yellow plum are beginning to expand their share in the market.
Bacha Jan, an agriculture expert, said that the demand for yellow plums is increasing because they are now considered more delicious than the rest of the varieties. However, he said that as the Red Beauty plums are mostly grown in Swat, farmers earn comparatively higher by selling them as compared to other varieties. He said that Tehsil Charbagh is the largest producing area for plums and apricots in the country, adding that apart from orchards the fruits are commonly grown in houses in the area.
Falak Naz, a fruit dealer in Manglawar, concurred. He said that of the four plum varieties grown in Swat, the Red Beauty plums still have the largest market share and provide the most earning to farmers. He said he sells the Red Beauty plums at an average of Rs250 per crate.
Meanwhile, day labourers who work in plum orchards in Swat — picking, packing and loading the fruit onto trucks — earn a reasonable sum during the harvest season. Gul Bacha, a fruit loader, said he earns Rs800 for loading fruit crates onto a single truck. “We earn enough money during the six months of [harvest] season that we can make our ends meet during the remaining year,” he added.
Plums are low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and are a good source of dietary fibre, vitamins A, K and C. Dried plums, referred to as prunes, have a high antioxidant content and are available throughout the year.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2012.