Bitter Harvest

  • Malik Nisar
  • Publish Date: May 7 2018 10:25PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: May 7 2018 10:25PM
Bitter Harvest

Puthar, the village of almonds, is finding it ever harder to keep cultivating the fruit.

 

Nestled in the hills of Kreeri area in Baramulla district is a small village called Puthar. In these parts, the village is synonymous with almond. But it may not be for too long.

Puthar grows a variety of fruits such as apricot, peach, plum and cherry. But it’s almond the village is famous for. It is often referred to as the village of almonds.

Nearly all of Puthar’s 100 or so families are engaged in farming and most of them cultivate almond. “This is the only village in the area where you’ll find more orchards of almond than of any other fruit,” said Mushtaq Mir, 35, a villager who himself owns an almond orchard. “People used to earn lakhs of rupees from our orchards, but the demand has diminished over the last two years and we have suffered a lot as a result.”

In Puthar, almond is harvested in early September, dried and, by the end of the month, sent to markets across India, said another orchard owner Nayeem Khan. It goes for around Rs100 per kilo, or it did until two seasons ago. The sharp fall in demand has brought down the prices, and that has hit the villagers hard. 

“We do not have any paddy land. People are mostly dependent on almond orchards. Almond is a kind of legacy of this village. We used to sell in lakhs but now people are cutting down almond trees because it is no longer remunerative,” said Ghulam Muhammad Wani, 60. “Until two years ago, we would plant almond wherever we could. See, the almond tree doesn’t require as much hard work to grow as other fruit trees such as apple. But now people are cutting them.” 

Kashmiri almonds are known for their unique taste and sweetness, and Kreeri area grows the best of them. The valley has an estimated 17,247 hectares under almond cultivation, with a yield of some 10,000 metric tonnes. 

But falling prices and diminishing yield, primarily a consequence of climate change, have dealt a blow to almond farming, so much so that even in Puthar and surrounding villages several farmers have shifted to growing apple. “In an era when machines are becoming our masters and jobs have started to vanish, many of our youth hoped to make their living from these orchards. But from the past few years, erratic weather conditions in the months when almond trees start to blossom have made losses inevitable. We are being pushed to the wall and have started looking for alternatives. Many people have already started to cut down almond trees and plant apple instead,” said Hafiz Wani, a villager.

The villagers said they could save the orchards if the government provides decent irrigation facilities. The government, though, does not seem to take the matter seriously, they alleged. “We have been requesting the government to develop an irrigation canal system for our almond orchards, which are slowly dying for lack of water at the right time,” said Hafiz. “They should also send a team of agriculture experts to address problems that almond growers are facing.”