Kashmir farmers rejoice strawberry boom as India grapples with drought

Kashmir farmers rejoice strawberry boom as India grapples with drought

SRINAGAR: Strawberry farmers in Kashmir are expecting an unusually productive harvest this year, despite a drought that swept through other parts of India and parched crops while unleashing a series of crises including displacement and farmer suicides.
“I thank God for the favorable climate, as the crop does not require too much of sun or excess of rain. I am in strawberry cultivation for the past three years and this year I expect bumper production of the crop,” said strawberry farmer Mohammad Iqbal, as cited by ANI newspaper.
Strawberries are a new crop for Kashmir farmers, who now cultivate at least 86 hectares of the succulent fruits after switching from the traditional paddy rice crop half a decade ago with the support of the state horticultural department.
The berries are mainly sold in the northern Indian states and Delhi, fetching between Rs 80,150 rupees per kilogram, with over 1,000 tonnes produced annually, according to The Indian Express newspaper.
The strawberry boom this year comes amid the end of a dry spell in central Indian states, with at least 900 people fleeing from Maharastra to camps in Mumbai.
Failed crops for the third monsoon season have also prompted a rash of farmer suicides, with up to 65 farmers taking their lives in Marathwada in the first three weeks of April alone, according to provincial officials cited by the Times of India.
Kashmir, a conflict ridden state largely alienated from the economic fruits of 7.5 percent growth in India’s $1.6 trillion dollar market, has seen incidences of violence decrease on par with fragile development gains, according to a study by researchers at the US based Robert M La Follette School of Public Affairs.
“The current lull in violence presents an opportunity to promote economic development to reduce secessionism,” reports the study.
Kashmiri strawberries normally start growing after half a year of brutally cold winters in which temperatures plunge below 15 degrees celsius but warmer averages this year have ushered in the bumper crop.
“We are witnessing an increase in strawberry production due to favorable weather this season. Last year, the production was 1,200 metric tonnes but this year it would be more than that,” said Sonam Norbu, director horticulture, Kashmir.—Agencies