Shopian: ‘Teli maali aasen tithi kaeran, tangg cxonthi papen cxearan seeth’. These lines are from a poem of famous Kashmiri Sufi saint and poet Sheikh Noor ud Din Noorani (Sheikh ul Alam) and they mean: ‘A time will come when pear and apple will ripe with apricot’. Sheikh Noorani was predicting signs of doomsday in this poem, one of which was the ripening of pear, apple and apricot at the same time.
But today Sheikh Noorani’s lines come across not as signs of doomsday but as blessings in disguise for apple growers of Kashmir who have taken to high-density apple cultivation.
The traditional crop of apple used to arrive in the month of September in Kashmir, but the high-density apple starts yielding fruit from the month of July. Many orchardists and traders also store their fruit in cold stores for a period of almost seven months, which means the fruit can be sold throughout the year.
According to a horticulture department estimate, about 7,000 kanals of horticulture land in Kashmir have been brought under high-density apple cultivation. The newly introduced high-density apple varieties grown in Kashmir are Jeromine, Gala, King Roat, Golden Reindeer, and many others. Most of these ripen much before the traditional Delicious and Kulu Delicious varieties.
Though no high-density brand, according to experts, can compete with traditional varieties in taste, crunch and shelf life, but their introduction has revolutionised the sector as apples get ready at different stages of the season before the arrival of traditional varieties.
Javid Ahmad, a horticulture expert, said that the new varieties maintain the demand and supply chain in the market, and second, they give sufficient time to growers to prepare, pick, pack and transport the fruit to markets.
An official from the horticulture department said that many other schemes are in the pipeline to boost the extent of high-density apple cultivation.
“Under the government subsidy scheme, horticulture department pays half of the expenses when people opt for high-density fruit growing. It includes support system, plants, drip set and other facilities. However, many growers do so without any subsidy and buy similar facilities from private importers,” the official said.
Bilal Ahmad Malik, a grower from Shopian, said that indeed a strange time has come when apricot and apple are ripening at the same time. “On the one hand it has signalled good fortune but at the same time it has also proven true the prediction of the famous Sufi saint regarding doomsday,” Malik said.
According to the J&K Economic Survey 2017, half of Kashmir’s population, comprising over 34 lakh souls (7 lakh families) is directly dependent on horticulture sector. According to the 2015-16 survey, 3.57 lakh hectares of land in Kashmir is under horticulture sector, up from 2.95 lakh hectares in the financial year 2007-08.