neglected orange orchards in manki sharif

Neglected orange orchards in Manki Sharif
By Tahir Ali
http://www.dawn.com/2011/12/19/neglected-orange-orchards-in-manki-sharif.htm

THE average per tree yield of orange orchards in Manki Sharif, a village situated 10km south of Nowshera, is falling owing to some diseases and water shortage, farmers say.
Around 31,000 tons of orange is produced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but together with Palay, Manki Sharif is a brand name for excellent orange variety.
Scattered over vast areas in Manki Sharif and the surrounding villages of Maraji and Tangi, the area is home to about 80 orange orchards of different sizes. Oranges of these orchards are liked for their aroma, big size, appetising look and delicious taste and are transported to markets throughout the country and even exported.
With Manki Sharif included, district Nowshera accounts for around eight per cent of citrus fruit produced in the province. In 2007, around 3,200 tons of orange and lemon out of around 31,000 tons of provincial citrus yield was produced here.
Located at high altitude, these orchards get water from rains or bullock or power-run tube-wells. With good sunshine, the area could be suitable for solar energy-run water pumps.
Affluent and resourceful landlords have got their irrigation networks cemented. Around 30-40 per cent of irrigation water is still wasted because of uneven lands, substandard kacha water channels and culverts.
After the 2005 earthquake, farmers say, water has receded from some fields and the phenomenon has destroyed some orange farms.
Gul Rehman Khattak, a farmer in the area, said his orange orchard scattered over two acres was lost.
“After water in the oldest well at our land disappeared, we dug it two times — dozens of meters down but to no avail. The orange orchard is a thing of the past now and the dried trees have been cut for fuel,” he said.
Uzair Khan Khattak, another farmer, said water had receded from his land too.
“A couple of years ago, tube-wells would pump water at full speed without any break for up to nine hours but now the level goes down in less than five hours. The problem needs to be analysed and the government or NGOs should help in digging deeper tube-wells in the area,” he said.
“Depending on the size, quality, per tree fruit yield and market situation, an acre of orchard with around 150 orange trees may fetch Rs100,000-700,000. If density of fruit is high, a small orchard of 70 trees could earn a farmer up to Rs400,000.”
Yield per tree is highly erratic. “Last year, this tree produced up to 1,500 oranges but this year it will barely yield around 300 pieces,” said Khatak, pointing at a nearby tree.
“The per tree yield is erratic because orchards are affected by various diseases, especially the one called Ghawarake locally, which leaves a shining effect on the leaves and dries up flowers and fruit,” he said.
“Lands where there are only orange orchards without crop cultivation usually produce higher number of fruits and improve earnings. An orchard of an influential family in the area, for example, has been sold for Rs10 million this year. Farmers who have planted orange trees at proper place and distances and in rows and are taking good care of them, are giving better yield.
But those who have planted orange trees on banks of culverts and are utilising their lands for growing maize, sugarcane and wheat crops are earning more money,” he said.
The government should provide soft loans and subsidised power to orange growers and the NGOs should set up guidance/counselling centres in the villages and expose farmers to modern horticulture practices to improve yield.
The crop is bought by fruit dealers at flowering stage, when unripe or during harvesting season in January. If bought at flowering stage, the dealers have to face the risk of loss in case of damage to the orchards due to weather conditions. And in case farmers retain the crop in the hope of better returns, they have to face the repercussions of bad weather.
Cold storage in the area can help them save from losses as fruit could be harvested at an opportune time without waiting for buyers who usually purchase fruits on their own terms.
More orchards could be established by levelling uneven lands in the area through laser technology.
There is no problem in transporting the crop as the Manki-Nawhsera road has been constructed anew.
But ignorance and lack of access to soil testing, land levelling and modern drip irrigation technology, absence of good resistant seeds varieties as well as poor watering infrastructure and some diseases and water shortage are adding to the woes of orange growers in the area.

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About Tahir Ali Khan
I am an academic, freelance columnist, writer and a social worker.

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