MINGORA: The former princely state of Swat is renowned for its breathtaking sights, its rolling green hills and high, snow-capped mountains and a fresh river passing through it earning it the coveted title of ‘Switzerland of Asia’.
Of late, though, the region has been making waves for new fruit offerings. A recent survey discovered that around half of Swat’s revenue – and or half of its economy – subsisted on tourists flocking to the scenic valleys.
But of equal importance to the valley has been its agriculture and horticulture with its famed apple and peach orchards contributing a massive 45 per cent to the region’s economy. A mere five per cent of the economy is generated by services and other sectors.
With the region pushing away the dark shadows of militancy, the provincial government has sought to bring back prosperity to the valley, enhancing its traditional agricultural offerings.
In this regard, the Khyber -Pakhtunkhwa Horticulture Department, with the help of local land owners, has worked on introducing new fruits to the valley and this season, it has started plucking the first pomegranate produces.
The fruit, which is primarily grown in Balochistan and in small pockets in K-P and Punjab, is now being cultivated in the historical Barikot Tehsil of Swat.
Ibrahim Khan, an agricultural scientist from the Malakand division who works in the Agriculture Department, says that Swat and the Malakand division, in particular, have the soil structure and the weather favourable for horticulture.
He urged the K-P government to provide local farmers with the necessary assistance and resources to enhance their capacity for generating greater capital.
“In Swat district we have 500 acres of lands being used for the horticulture sector, which is 30 per cent of the total land available in the district,” Ibrahim says, adding that, “If the government announces special package for orchard growers, fruit production may grow to meet the demands of the K-P and Punjab markets.” Continuous drought in Balochistan and border management issues on Afghan border restricting the import of fruits from the western neighbour has offered Swat’s horticulture sector space to grow.
Favorable weather and abundance of water supply allowed farmers to plant cherry and pomegranate trees on their lands, a fruit buyer Younas Khan told The Express Tribune.
“Due to the exceptional taste, eye-catching insignia and size [of fruits] forces the consumers to go for Swat’s pomegranates rather than Turkish, Qandhari (Afghani) or Irani. They are economical and available in the local market easily,” Younas adds.
Indeed, apart from the traditional apples, peaches, grapefruits and apricots, Swat in the past decade has experimented with fruits such as strawberries and olives.
While the first part of the process – growing the pomegranates – seems to have been successful, it is the sale of the product which is now worrying farmers.
Abu Bakkar, the owner of an orchard, told The Express Tribune that they need access to markets to sell the produce they had worked to cultivate over a ten-year—long period.
But with little promotion of their produce, they feel cheated since buyers are not as aware of the product, nor are they willing to pay the demanded price. Moreover, the lax response discourages local farmers towards the taking the risk to grow the fruit.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2017.