Notwithstanding disquieting weather forecasts, plum orchardists of Budgam’s B.K. Pora are currently reaping a bumper cash crop. Increased production coupled with domestic market demand is now shifting farming trends in the belt.
As they flock their orchards with wicker baskets, the countryside harvest season in Budgam’s B.K. Pora spreads festive looks and vibes among the orchardists. With beads of sweat shining on their foreheads, they take turns to pluck ripened plums from the fruit-laden branches.
They’ve swarmed their orchards to take home what looks like a bumper crop.
The belt has a reputation of being the leading plum producer in Kashmir. Last year, says Horticulture Development Officer, Hamid Ahmad, 798 metric tons of the cash crop from 319 hectares of plum orchard fields was estimated. “This year,” Ahmad says, “the production would be higher than the previous year.”
Defying the unreliable weather forecasts that apparently pressed the alarm buttons in early 2018, predicting a dry spell and low harvest for Kashmir, the orchards in B.K Pora are content over their copious crop.
“Our hopes were rundown earlier because of scanty rainfall and severe dry spell news,” says Ali Mohammad, an orchardist, filling his basket with plums. As he plucks one after another plum, Ali says that he sees a ‘divine intervention’ behind the bumper harvest.
Not everyone, however, thinks like that.
Some young farmers argue that the weather has already impacted their crop. Insufficient rainfall, they say, has strained and reduced the plum’s natural growth and size. But they find no keen audience among the experienced and sun-burnt orchardists in their clan.
“Size and growth of the plum depends on the level at which the tree is grounded,” says Mohammad Subhan, who has been growing plums since the past fifty years. “Apricot based plum plant provides good outcome and better quality.”
Now, as the belt is planted with the same Apricot based plum, both quantity and quality of plums has improved this year, says Mohammad Shafi, another orchardist.
“This time around,” Shafi says, “my orchard field has produced more plums than the previous year.”
For proper maintenance of the fruit and the tree, orchardists often remove unwanted branches, spray trees and use fertilizers from time to time. The plum orchards need many sprays of fungicides and pesticides to make the trees disease-free.
“At least we spray the trees three to four times with recommended medicines to remove the disease from the tree and the fruit,” says Mohammad Eshaq Bhat, a young orchardist. “The process consumes a lot of time and money.”
Last year, he says, hail storms affected the plum crop but this year no such natural disaster struck.
Post-harvest, most of these farmers prefer to send plums to New Delhi. But in view of a good domestic demand since the past few years, they have also started distributing the crop in the local markets.
Behind the increased demand of plums, many cite their health and medicinal value, especially the anti-cancerous properties.
Because of the ‘good demand’ for Kashmiri plums in India, many farmers are increasingly switching over to plum production by planting more plum trees in their land, says Abdul Majeed, a local farmer.
“Some fruit growers have shifted to plum production by replacing other fruit trees,” he says. “Some have even planted plum trees in their agricultural land.”
This major farming shift in B.K. Pora is taking place without any financial backing and training support from the government.
Depending on the variety, ripening of plum fruit also varies. The indication for the right time of picking is when the fruit becomes soft to touch, sweet to taste and juicy. When the visible layer of the fruit turns brown, that also signifies its ripening. Plum looks greenish before ripening; and with its growth, it changes its color naturally.
Due to the high perishable character of the fruit, it needs to be packed properly and stored in a suitable temperature. To make its availability possible for months after ripening, farmers opt to keep this perishable fruit in cool storages in Nylon jars.
But as swatches of land in B.K. Pora planted with plum trees continue to spread smiles on weathered faces, the smiles indicate that the season was worth it, despite the gloom spread because of bad weather predictions. The time to pick plums in Kashmir is certainly here.
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