Bhaderwah (J&K): Bharova, Khalo and Shanatra villages in Jammu and Kashmir’s additional district Bhaderwah, which were once considered poverty-stricken due to recurring drought, have made a mark in the horticulture sector by growing exotic Italian Pears with a yearly production of about 1.5 metric tonnes.
Unlike other places in the hilly Chenab valley region where farmers consider growing fruits as a subsidiary activity and instead prefer maize, paddy and fodder for cattle, horticulture has emerged as a viable livelihood option for farmers who treated it at par with farming.
The seeds of positive growth were sown when Haji Mohd Shafi Sheikh (74) of village Bharova, 18 km from Bhaderwah town, decided to switch from growing maize to horticulture on his five acres of land about two decades ago.
“Traditionally I used to grow maize and green fodder in my land completely dependent on rain and the yield never exceeded beyond Rs 20,000 a year,” Sheikh told PTI.
Sheikh’s family owned the land located on the slope of a hill surrounded by thick coniferous forest and was facing a severe financial crisis.
Until his elder son Atta Mohd’s insistence, Sheikh decided to halt the traditional practice of growing maize and adopted horticulture with the hope to earn extra money, despite facing criticism from fellow villagers and relatives.
“After switching to horticulture in the year 2002, facing some extra hardships for initial four years, my endeavour starting gradually reaping the rich benefits and today my income from a meagre Rs 20,000 a year has swollen to Rs 25 lakhs annually,” Sheikh said, expressing satisfaction that he is able to provide employment to 25 villagers in his orchard where he grows exotic Italian Pears.
Sheikh, by opting for innovative cultivation of Italian Pears made it a successful venture in Bhadarwah by growing more than 200 trees thereby inspiring other farmers as well.
“During a routine visit of a team of scientists of Krishi Vigyan Kendra, seeing my dedication and the urge to grow my orchard scientifically, one of the scientists – Dr Vikas Tandon gave me a few plants of Italian pears and that became a big turning point in my journey,” he said.
Not only for himself but Sheikh also became a ray of hope for the unemployed youths of his area as they have been working with him for the last couple of years and are earning their livelihood.
“During the first wave of Covid-19 pandemic, I lost my job and returned back to my village with no means of livelihood but soon I found a job in my own village in the orchard of Sheikh Sahib. I am not only working here but am also growing my own orchard of Italian Pears that too scientifically,” Mukesh Kumar (27), also a resident of Bharova village, said.
Getting inspiration from the elderly fruit grower, today 165 families from Bharova, Khalo and Shanatra villages have switched over to growing fruits especially Italian Pears thereby becoming the leading producer of exotic fruit in the region.
“After completing my engineering at Bangalore, I came back to put an idea before my father to start growing fruit trees instead of maize. Although after some resistance my father agreed, we have to face a lot of opposition from our relatives and fellow villagers who even branded me as mentally ill,” Sheikh’s son Atta Mohd said.
Mohd said he is proud of his father’s achievement as he has become an icon and an inspiration for other farmers in the area.
“Today our entire area has become a fruit hub and we are leading the race as far as production of fine quality Italian pears is concerned,” he said.
The exotic dark red colour fruit which is extremely popular among high-end customers has also given a new identity to Bhaderwah valley and has also become an added attraction for visitors.
Italian pears, also sometimes called Red d’Anjou pears, were introduced to the market in the 1950s after being discovered as a sport on a Green Anjou pear tree. Red Anjou pears taste similar to the green variety, but they offer a stunning, deep red colour that adds a distinctive look to any dish that calls for Pears.