Horticulture in peril: Production of Khanpur’s famous citrus fruits on the decline

Lack of rainfall and decrease in soil fertility major reasons for decline in yield.

Muhammad Sadaqat December 27, 2011


December is almost over and while Khanpur oranges are a universal favourite in winters, limited supply over the years has made them practically unaffordable for most people.

The effects of climate change and ever-decreasing soil fertility have considerably reduced the yield of citrus fruits in Khanpur valley, with farmers suffering losses and consumers contending with sky-rocketing prices. During a visit to citrus orchards in the valley on Sunday, local horticulture department officials revealed that the low yield is not even sufficient to meet local demand for the fruit and vendors are cheating people by selling them Punjabi varieties of orange.

Spread over 280 hectares, citrus orchards of Khanpur valley, Haripur, are famous around the world for the distinct taste of their produce, which include Hamlin, Blood Red, Washington Navel, Ruby-red and shakry, oranges, mussammy, early fruiter and grapefruit. Abdul Hameed, a local farmer and contractor, attributed the decline mainly to insufficient rainfall in the area from April till June when the citrus trees begin fruiting. Hameed, whose family has been in this business for over six decades, said due to unavailability of water, trees bearing around 500 to 800 oranges last year grew only 50 to 100 this season. “Many trees bore no fruit while the rest produced only 20 to 40 oranges,” said Murtaza, another contractor. He said the oranges are smaller and a lot less juicy, mainly because of unavailability of water.

According to the Crop Reporting Centre Haripur, the annual produce of these delicious varieties used to range from 2,200 to 2,400 tons, but over the years it has been reduced by around 70 to 80 per cent. The reduced yield, according to Hameed, has resulted in enormous losses for contractors who purchased harvests on three- to five-year contracts from farmers paying the full amount in advance. The diminished yield, he said, will translate into an increase in the prices of Khanpur oranges. From Rs400 to Rs500 for a 100 pieces, the prices are expected to hit Rs1,000. Diminishing yield has also affected hundreds of unskilled agricultural workers, including women, who hoe, plant, water and take care of the plants besides picking, packing and marketing the fruit which keeps them employed for most of the year. Moreover, locals who earn their living working at makeshift sale points, established every year from November till April-end on the Khanpur-Taxila and Haripur-Abbottabad roads, will be unemployed.

Hameed said, “In most orchards in Panj Katha, citrus trees that begin to fruit after five years are nearly infertile after three to four years.” He said local farmers have many a time contacted officials of the horticulture department but they do not get back after collecting soil samples.

“Water from Khanpur Dam is diverted for municipal supply which gets preference over irrigation, especially in summers,” he added. “Given these circumstances, farmers are cutting down their citrus orchards and selling out their land for commercial use.”

A local agriculturist, Mumtaz Ahmed, said the decline in the citrus yield in Khanpur valley is the consequence of climate change. Apart from 2010, he said the valley has been receiving lower rainfall since 1988. He suggested that the pattern of growing crops in the orchards should be changed since sowing wheat in the orchard every year could be one of the reasons for the diminishing yield of citrus fruit. He stressed the need to properly investigate the issue to save the famous citrus produce and the livelihoods of Khanpur’s residents.

(Read: Dark night attack: In Khanpur, farmers helpless as bats feast on their lychees)

Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2011.


Ali Tanoli | 9 years ago | Reply

I have some land in that area and we are getting wheat and corn and other vegitables from it and i have seen weather change affect on those trees and one more reason is islamabad city govt divided khan pur dam water to capital and we are hurting from it. I have an idea peoples of the area should start raising sheeps and goats and can beats the new zealand easally i am trying it.

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