Swat peaches are enjoyed by people across the world. There are numerous orchards in the valley, producing peach varieties of varying quality, ranging from A2 to A8.
However, militancy in Swat and the devastating floods last year severely affected the agricultural sector, including the orchards.
According to the District Agriculture department, a total of 31,000 acres of agricultural land was affected by the floods, out of which almost 20 per cent of orchards were completely destroyed. The loss to the agricultural sector in Swat has been estimated at Rs14 billion.
“Peach from Swat is recognised everywhere, as the fruit grown here is known for its high quality. We buy the peach orchards before it bears any fruit, after which we take serious care of the fruits,” Muhammad Zada, a peach orchard owner for 22 years, told The Express Tribune.
“Though we are able to earn a good deal of profit, sometimes we have to bear a loss as well since this business is dependent on the weather,” he added.
He said they suffered huge losses during the Taliban rule as most farmers could not pluck the fruit due to curfew. “We could not send the fruits to other areas as the roads also remained blocked,” he added.
Besides farmers and dealers, the peach orchards are also a source of income for hundreds of other people. Local transporters, loaders, pickers and packers are directly dependant upon the agricultural sector in the valley.
“We passed through very tough times during militant’s rule and then during the floods, but the situation is improving with the passage of time,” said Ahmed Wali, a labourer loading boxes of peach on a truck for Faisalabad.
The fruit that goes overripe, however, often goes to waste as there are no juice plants.
“The situation will improve dramatically if a juice plant is installed here in Swat, as a large portion of wasted fruits would be used efficiently,” Fazal Wadood, an orchard dealer, said.
Regarding the steps taken for rehabilitation of agriculture in Swat, District Officer Agriculture (Extension) Fazal Maula said they had run “several campaigns” to remove standing water and sand from the orchards to minimise the loss after floods.
“We have also organised programmes for pruning, capacity building and spreading awareness; we are giving technical support to NGOs working in agricultural sector.”
He added, “A package of Rs93 million has also been approved by the government, under which the affected farmers will be given Rs2,400 per acre, while the orchard owners would receive up to 12.5 acres. The government has also planted fruits on almost nearly 400 acres.”
A “full-fledged project” for the production of apples and peaches is being initiated with the help of the Italian government, under which 400,000 saplings and young plants would be distributed to the affected farmers, Maula said; two processing plants will be installed, while the farmers will receive training for improved production. New varieties of fruits will also be introduced in the valley, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2011.