PALAI, Malakand: While travelling on the dusty and polluted roads of urban areas, one feels a dramatic change in the atmosphere upon reaching Malakand – the gateway to several tourist spots where greenery abounds and the weather is pleasant.
In addition to the beauty of nature, Malakand district is known for the fine quality oranges it produces between December and March every year.
Shah Hussain, a trader from Malakand, said that though the locals travelling abroad take the citrus fruit overseas where it is liked, the problem is the lack of facilities for the growers to export their produce.
He said he has been buying an entire orchard and selling the oranges to shopkeepers and traders in the market.
“The fruit is red in colour if it ripens in the plant. But many people pluck unripe orange because they fear that the thieves may steal the fruit, often at night. This is the reason that we sometimes see oranges that don’t have red pigment,” he said when asked why certain oranges are not very delicious.
Diyar Khan Yousafzai, a customer hailing from Mardan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who had come to Palai village to buy the fruit, said that this year the oranges are being sold at higher rates compared to last year.
“I come here in every season to buy oranges. Last year I bought several sacks, each containing 50 oranges and costing Rs500 to Rs600. This year, however, one sack is being sold for Rs800,” he added.
He also complained that this year’s produce isn’t red in colour.
Usman Khan and Islam Shah, two workers sitting next to a pile of oranges covered by dry sugarcane leaves, said the orange harvesting season runs from December to March every year. “After plucking the fruit, we pile it in the orchard and cover it with the dry sugarcane leaves, to keep the oranges cold and store it for weeks,” said Usman Khan.
He added that they supplied the fruit to Batkhela bazaar, the main marketplace in Malakand district, Charsadda, Rawalpindi and other areas of Punjab.
Sultan Khan, who owns an orchard in Palai, told this scribe that with the passage of time the numbers of orange orchards have increased. “There were a few orchards in Palai in the past when there were no tube-wells. Now tubewells have been dug in various places to facilitate water supply. There are around 400 big and small orchards in Palai now,” Sultan Khan added.
He informed that his orchard earns him from Rs1.6 million to Rs2.6 million annually. “Profits depend on the number of fruit trees. My orchard has around 1,000 orange trees. Also, sometimes inclement weather can cause reduction in our profits if the fruit gets damaged,” he added.
Dr Muhammad Sajid, an expert of citrus fruit and associate professor of Horticulture Department at the University of Agriculture, told this correspondent that the soil and weather of Malakand district, particularly Palai, is suitable for growing oranges.
“The soil of Malakand, especially Palai, is sandy loam, and the cool breeze that blows in the area during winter is important for the acid-sugar balance in oranges. Also, there are plenty of water bodies for irrigation in the area. All these constitute a perfect place for growing the citrus fruit,” Dr Sajid added.
According to Malakand’s Deputy Commissioner Salman Khan Lodhi, there are 450 orchards in Palai area while another 100 have been developed in Wartair, also located in Malakand. He said the average production of oranges in Malakand is more than 4,000 tonnes.
About the measures taken for the development of orchards and improvement in quality of oranges in Malakand, he said that the administration has set up a research centre in Palai to promote good husbandry practices, pest management, market mechanism, etc.
To a question about boosting orange exports, the Deputy Commissioner said they are mulling a plan to boost the export of oranges and soon a meeting with Agriculture Department officials and other stakeholders would be held.
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