SWAT: When one thinks of Swat, one either imagines dazzling landscape and tourist resorts or the region’s recent spate of militancy. Most are probably unaware of its agricultural produce, except perhaps the strawberry.
Acclaimed for its unique quality and taste, Swat has, over the years, provided some of the best apples, peaches, persimmon and strawberries to the national and international markets and is one of the favoured areas for off-season fruit production.
The onions, cabbages, turnips and potatoes of Swat are also of international repute.
Unfortunately, the recent Taliban militancy coupled with the destructive flood has spelled disaster for the area endowed with naturally fertile land. The Taliban caused immense suffering to the farmers when they blocked the ways out to national fruit and vegetable markets. The floods multiplied their troubles when 60 per cent of the agricultural land was submerged and destroyed along with most irrigation channels.
The government, despite numerous claims, has done little for the rehabilitation of the sector or the farmers’ troubles. As usual, others have come to the rescue.
Recently, a conference was organised by the Apple Growers Association, facilitated by Pakistan Oil and Seed Development Board of Swat. The purpose of the conference was to discuss and chalk out plans for the region’s agricultural rehabilitation.
The association’s president, Salahuddin, told The Express Tribune, “If the irrigation channels are not restored immediately, the rest of the land will become barren and wasted.”
Abdul Qayum, a farmer from Arkot area of Tehsil Matta was really upset with the government. “Our valuable fruits could not reach the markets for three years and then the floods destroyed us, but neither the government nor any NGO helped us in the true sense of the word,” he complained.
“The government must restore our irrigation channels, provide fertilizer, seeds and interest free loans to all the farmers and ensure the availability of nurseries in Swat. If the government helps us, we may be able to stand on our feet once again,” he said.
Responding to farmers’ multitude issues, the District Agriculture Officer Fazal Maula, said, “We have estimated the total loss and reported it to the government, NGOs and other organisations. Based on our reports, several NGOs have started their recovery activities here. The federal government has also approved the recovery plan and soon various rehabilitation schemes will be initiated.”
Farmers at the conference openly criticised the government and NGOs for not taking interest in the agricultural sector which is now the back bone of the Swat economy. They demanded immediate measures from the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2011.
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