SRINAGAR: Strawberry growers say that profitability has eluded them this year as a dampened tourist influx has considerably limited the off-take of this highly perishable fruit in the markets.
Growers say that this debut horticultural product of Kashmir has limited earnings for growers as the government has never made provision for its export outside the state, where the fruit is sold at very high rates, making growers dependent on consumption within local markets only.
Altaf Ahmad Mir, who has been into strawberry cultivation for more than a decade at Gousu village, famed for its strawberry cultivation on the outskirts of Srinagar city, told Kashmir Reader that last year produce from the village reached many tourist destinations in the Valley as tourists visiting Kashmir would cherish the succulent fruit, keeping it in high demand and thus enhancing its rates.
However the lower tourist inflow this year has made sales totally dependent on local consumption.
“Consumption has been good locally, but the remuneration this fruit could bring to a grower is not encouraging,” he said.
Mohammad Yasin Bhat, a wholesaler at the Parimpora fruit market told Kashmir Reader that given the fruit is highly perishable and is not sent to markets outside the state, whatever is produced here is consumed locally.
He said that this fruit needs specialised transport for export, where it is highly cherished.
“In the local markets, the price usually hovers around Rs 100 per kilogram in the retail,” he said, adding that low tourist footfall, as well as hartals and curfews, further bring down prices in local markets.
This low return on the produce has also resulted in curtailing the acreage of the fruit in what is otherwise famed as a strawberry village.
Mir reasons that the low returns for growers in his village result in reduced cultivation.
Too much output creates a glut in the markets, and there are few faithful growers who still continue with strawberries.
“If there were a means of export, many could have taken up strawberry farming,” he said, adding that many other famed strawberry growing areas also suffer on this account.
Strawberries in Kashmir once grew wild, and certain pockets still hold them. The British introduced some varieties in the 1930s, when they started cultivation in the Gulmarg and Tangmarg areas in North Kashmir.
The state horticulture department first initiated the cultivation in 1965, followed by an Indo-Italian project that started in the 1980s, stressing the growing of the Confutura and Pajero varieties.
The most preferred strawberry varieties grown at present include the Chandler, Tioga and Sesenga Sengana varieties.