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March 14, 2019

Growers in Mardan opting to grow fruit orchards in place of sugarcane


March 14, 2019

MARDAN: The number of fruits orchards is growing gradually in the district as more and more people are planting fruit orchards on the land on which they used to grow sugarcane.

There may be many reasons for planting orchards but the decline in the demand of gur and consistently low prices of sugarcane for the past few years is considered the prime cause.

The landowners and farmers, disappointed with the low prices of sugarcane and gur, have started planting fruit orchards in the hope of getting better income. Muhammad Irshad of Charchoor village in Mardan’s Katlang tehsil is one such farmer who recently planted peach and apricot orchards over 12 acres of his land. “We have been planting sugarcane crop for the last few decades. With the start of sugarcane crushing season every year, we expect reasonable prices and reward for our hard work but we get disappointed almost every time,” he said. He said that though the prices of sugarcane fluctuate every season and farmers would sometimes earn some profit, the prices remained consistently low for the past few years and the growers as a consequence suffered.

“Previously the border with Afghanistan was open and besides other items gur was also exported as it was in high demand there. The farmers were able to get better returns for their gur. But the border often remained closed due to hostilities between Pakistan and Afghanistan which is affecting the growers,” he explained.

Irshad said the fertilizers and pesticide were costly and it cost a lot to grow sugarcane and other crops. Besides, the returns on cultivating these crops were meagre in the market. “It took a year to grow and harvest sugarcane but in the end the farmers made just a little profit. There is no buyer and the farmers are forced to sell gur and sugarcane at throwaway prices,” he lamented.

“This is the reason I finally decided to give up sugarcane and experiment with plantation of fruit orchard on my land,” he argued. Rahim Shah of Babuzai said his family have planted different fruits orchards over 63 acres of land. “We have planted maltas (oranges) on eight acres of land, Louqat on 30 acres and peaches on 25 acres of land,” he added.

The landowner said that they decided to plant orchards to earn better profits as they could not earn much from growing seasonal crops.

“Farmers are now looking towards alternative crops to earn profit instead of sticking to only growing sugarcane and wheat crop,” he pointed out. Rahim Shah said that seasoned orchard growers from Swat district were also planting orchards on share basis in parts of Mardan. Bacha Hassan, a resident of Dheri village, has also planted oranges on 50 acres of land and was satisfied with its production and income. “The oranges produced in Katlang are juicy, delicious and in high demand in the market,” he added.

Jan Sher, a resident of Matta in Swat, said that he has planted fruits orchards on 75 acres of land in various villages of Katlang tehsil. He said that planting orchards was his family business. “My father had started the family business which has now passed on to my children and nephews,” he said.

He said that they sign a 14 years agreement with the land owners to plant orchards. Jan Sher said that he pays for purchasing the plants and looking after the orchard for the first three years under the agreement. “We share the profit with landowners after the plants start bearing fruit three years after plantation,” he added.

He said that he has rented out two shops in Rawalpindi to sell the fruit. “The land in Katlang tehsil is fertile and suitable for growing all kinds of fruits. The fruits produced in Katlang are similar in quality and quantity to those in Swat,” he pointed out.

Jan Sher said that vast tracts of land were available in Mardan to grow orchards. “This attracted me to grow orchards in Mardan as the land in Swat is being used for commercial purposes and construction of houses and there is not much land left for cultivation, especially for growing orchards. In the coming years there would be no land available for plantation in Swat if construction of commercial plazas and buildings continued on the same scale,” he argued.

“The farmers and landowners would stop growing sugarcane and the day is not far when there would be only fruit orchards in Mardan if the government remained unconcerned to take practical measures to address the growing concerns of farmers about the prices of sugarcane and gur in the near future,” said Nazir Kaka, a farmer in Shamozai village.

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