Achai-cow-conservation-project in Lower Dir

Achai cow conservation project

The government, impressed with the Achai cow breed’s ability to adapt to extreme weather conditions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and return on investment, is promoting setting up of dozens of Achai cow associations in selected districts in the province.

These associations are being formed in villages in Charsadda, Swat, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Malakand and Chitral, where at least 25 households own Achai cows.

“We initially planned to form 48 bodies. However, we have enlisted 102 Achai associations in the project area so far, and continue to enlist more of them. These organisations will later be combined into a district Achai Cattle Owners Association,” said the project’s director, Dr Wahid Mir. He added that cattle associations will also be formed at the divisional level.

Talking about the benefit of these bodies, Dr Mir said that registered farmers will get insemination services, as well as vaccination, diagnosis, treatment, medicines and advisory services for their animals for free.

Some farmers have also been trained at the cattle farm in Hari Chand in Charsadda, and will be taken to modern public and private cattle farms in KP and Punjab, where they will be acquainted with modern ways of rearing livestock animals, as well as proper method for feeding and milking the animals. They will also be taught about preparing by-products from milk.

However, Kohistan, Shangla and Buner districts, which are also home to a sizable Achai population, have been left out of the project. Dr Mir said that the programme will be launched in Buner and Swabi in the near future.

Apart from helping cattle farmers, these associations have trained veterinary assistants, who are supposed to regularly vaccinate the animals and treat them if they contract any disease.

Improving the quality of the livestock breed is yet another goal of the project. Dr Mir said that better animals will help farmers through increased milk and meat production. Achai breeds that give the best milk and meat production ratios will be selected for reproductive purposes, and then disseminated to local farmers.

“As the project started, the price of an Achai cow increased to Rs40,000 from around Rs20,000,” observed the project director.

A survey of 400 Achai cows found that 45 per cent of them yielded an average of one to 1.5 litres of milk a day. Another 20 per cent of the animals yielded 2-4 litres a day, while some groups managed to yield as high as nine litres of milk in a day.

The respective yields of these groups can be easily increased with concerted efforts for disseminating the best breeds, as well as provision of hygienic fodder and efficient healthcare services.

However, Achai is not the only cow breed that is present in the province. Several indigenous cattle breeds, like the Lohani in Kohat, and Gabrali in Swat, can also do with some help.

However, Dr Mir explained that the government selected the Achai breed for its ability to adapt to changes in the weather, as well as its docility, high fertility and overall suitability for the area

“The cow is suitable for area terrain and weather. It can resist cold as well as warm climate (it can reportedly withstand temperatures that range between the freezing point up to 200 Celsius). It has a small body and thus it needs little food.
However, it gives more milk for its size and food intake,” said Dr Mir.

The project director added that milking the Achai cow is a fairly easy job, as, “even children can do it. Its conception rate is double that of other national breeds. And while other breeds take up to three years to reproduce after giving birth, the Achai cow does it after one-and-a-shalf year. It may give birth to three calves, compared to one or two given by other breeds,” he said.

Only 500,000 Achai cows are present in the province, according to a livestock census conducted in 2006, added Dr Mir.

To help farmers realise full well what the cow can offer, a model Achai Cow Conservation Farm has been built in Munda in Lower Dir, at a cost of Rs222 million. Dr Mir said that 20 canals of land had been purchased for the farm, with another 22 to 24 canals will be bought for the production of fodder for the animals.

“Nearly 98 per cent of the construction of the Achai farm has been completed. The site will be handed over to the directorate of livestock within a fortnight, after the work is completed,” said a senior official.

“There will be a small laboratory that will be used for diagnosing animal diseases. The best Achai cows will be ascertained and later used for reproductive purposes, through artificial insemination and embryo transplantation.”

However, after having paid due attention to the livestock and animal rearing activities, authorities now need to turn their attention to the human capital they have available. The project directorate has only 56 personnel at its disposal. This includes five doctors, 12 veterinary assistants, and other staff members. Each district has been assigned a doctor and two veterinary assistants.

Mir conceded that more staff was needed at the Tehsil and locality levels so that the entire project area could be covered.
“Veterinary assistants are expected to keep records of conception, birth, sex of the calves, their weight, milking duration and growth. They also have to do field duties, like conducting inspections as well as vaccinating and treating animals. They are supposed to offer counselling services to the farmers as well,” said Dr Mir.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has around six million cows of different breeds, but none of them have been utilised to produce genetically superior and high yielding species. It is expected that this project will change the fate of at least one of these breeds.

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Reclaiming agriculture in Swat

Out in the field
Farmers in Swat need a helping hand to revive their fields and plant new crops
By Tahir Ali

Farmers in Swat — known as the fruit and vegetable paradise of the country — say the potential of the area’s agriculture and its related sectors remain unutilised even after the areas have been cleared by the security forces.

The area is a natural hub of high quality walnut, honey, soybean cultivation, trout fish and seasonal and off-season fruits and vegetables. The government has not focused on the potential sectors the way they should have been.

Swat farmers have not benefited from the resources for lack of money, expertise and marketing linkages, including substandard packaging, absence of value addition and processing plants.

Ihsanullah Khan, a farmer and social activist from Swat, says agriculture in general and the horticulture sector in particular has been made hostage to high prices of agriculture inputs, lack of cold storages and processing facilities, transportation and marketing blues and the use of substandard pesticides and fertiliser that renders export impossible. “The smaller farmers find it difficult to meet their basic needs. They don’t get good returns on their crops. They take advance loans from commission agents and enter into contracts with them for the sale of their fruit earlier. Thus, they are compelled to sell their produce at pre-determined prices which are usually far below the market price at the harvesting seasons. The government needs to help them find new markets for their products by creating linkages and liaison between them and local and multinational companies.”

The Khan adds, “The government and various local and international NGOs have done a commendable work for agriculture uplift in the area. The Italian government has supported the local farmers. The Sarhad Rural Support Programme has formed many community organisations, trained farmers and established link-roads to facilitate transportation of their produce to markets. But I think while there were thousands of NGOs in the early relief and recovery phases, hardly a few are working these days.”

According to Tariq Khan, a farmer from Miandam Swat and the president of a local community organisation, Roshan Saba, agriculture in Swat has been hit by the poverty and illiteracy of local farmers and indifference of the government.

“The people could enormously benefit if the government and NGOs helped the locals plant walnut trees there, establish orchards, provide support and free or subsidised inputs for the potato, peas and red beans crops, construct link roads to far-off villages and improve the capacity of farmers by providing them modern training and help establish cold storages and regulate markets in the area,” he says, adding, “the local farmers need support for mechanised farming for cementing the Katcha water channel, and construction of small dams for harvesting rain water,” he says.

Tariq Khan says his organisation has planted pine trees on 500 acres with the help of watershed project. “We also planted Deodar trees at 60 acres, apple orchards at 20 acres and persimmon trees at 30 acres with the support of Italian funded and Early Recovery of Agriculture and Livelihood Project (ERALP).

With the support of Hujra project, Roshan Saba planted fruit plants in 100 aces. For paucity of funds, we cemented 20 per cent water channels in some but only 5-15 per cent in other areas. The IRC and ERALP also provided with inputs which increased potato yields manifold. In our village, before the intervention, potatoes worth Rs10mn were sold but following it potato worth Rs25mn was sold last year,” he says.

“We would like the NGOs, the government and foreign countries to help revive the agriculture sector to its good days and realise its full potential. We would welcome them. We also request the Italian government not to discontinue the ERALP programme as it has helped us a lot,” he adds.

Another farmer, Izzat Mand, was all praise for ERALP and wanted its continuation as it helped farmers in Swat to increase their incomes through various interventions in agriculture and livestock.

Farmers and residents in the cooler parts of Swat still go without wheat growing as the ordinary wheat seeds can’t mature there and research scientists have so far failed to develop any specific early-maturing and cold-resistant seed for the area.

Swat accounts for around 50 percent of the provincial walnut population but the potential of walnut in the area is far from being utilised for lack of official support, continuous deforestation of the existing trees, non-cultivation of new ones and some ailments.

Shah Abdar, a farmer, says walnut could be the greatest source of income. “There are around 5 big walnut trees in one canal of land. If we take the average land per family at 50 canals (around 6 acres) and the family grows walnut trees on it, it can become a millionaire within no time. Just leave the 300kg yield per tree, even if the per tree yield is just 50kg, it will earn the family around Rs2.5million at the current market rate. The tree usually grows on mountain ridges and thus won’t impact cereal crops,” he says.

He says there is also a vast potential for growing potato but there is a lack of potato-processing units, one that could produce potato chips.

“Large size and good taste and quality are the hallmarks of Swat’s potatoes. Average yield per hectare is 12 and 17 metric tons in KP and the country respectively but is around 20MT in Swat. Still, farmers avoid the crop for flawed marketing” he adds.

Before the 2010 floods, Swat produced approximately 60 tons of trout fish from its 22 farms, which was mostly consumed locally. Last July’s floods ravaged most of these hatcheries. However, Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authority (PaRRSA), with assistance from a USAID project worth $1.2mn, is helping repair these hatcheries.

According to an official whitepaper published last year in June, besides ERALP being implemented by PaRRSA, the USAID is financing several projects worth billions of rupees to help revive and develop agriculture, restore trout fish farms, the honey sector, medicinal and aromatic plants and the agricultural inputs, livestock and poultry tools, etc.

Funding is apparently the main problem. According to the official white-paper, out of total $860mn reconstruction needs for post militancy needs, KP still has no commitments for over $526mn.

As per the white paper, out of the total $1065mn damages in floods, the agriculture and its related sectors received loss of $396mn. For post militancy floods, reconstruction needs requiring $218mn in agriculture sector, the government still requires $217mn as only Italian government had committed $10mn for the agriculture sector.

The USAID, UNDP and several countries like China and the UAE, are providing support in sectors like roads, education, health, housing, etc, worth billions of rupees, it is but lamentable that agriculture has not received the required attention.

A robust crop insurance system and a subsidised easy-credit scheme and financial support for the expansion of agricultural engineering networks in the area, promotion of off season vegetables through ‘tunnel farming’ and training and support for small household businesses are also needed.

Housing subsidy for militancy-hit people

home
Out in the open, still
Housing subsidy programme for people in the militancy-hit areas in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies needs to be pursued
By Tahir Ali

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/apr2012-weekly/nos-22-04-2012/pol1.htm#4

While the housing uniform assistance subsidy project (HUASP) for the militancy-hit people in Malakand division is nearing completion, it is still a long way to go in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, particularly in the latter where not a single penny has been given in housing subsidy despite the lapse of around three years since the millions of internally displaced persons returned to their homes.

According to an HUSAP official, who does not want to be identified, as of March this year, 4919 of the completely damaged and 9500 of the partly damaged house owners have been disbursed Rs3.5bn — Rs0.4 million for the totally damaged and Rs0.16mn for the partially damaged ones — in the five districts of Malakand division — Swat, Buner, Shangla and Dir upper and lower and the federally administered tribal Bajaur and Mohmand agencies.

While only around 400 owners of the fully destroyed and 1000 partially damaged houses remain to be paid in Malakand division, over 4200 of these categories are yet to be paid in the two agencies.

In Bajaur, Rs1.44bn have been paid to 5389 owners of the 2437 and 2952 in the two categories respectively with over 3100 yet to be paid there.

But none of all the 1092 owners of totally damaged and 2 owners of partly damaged houses from Mohmand agency have been compensated as yet apparently for its distant location and security concerns. “The verification and registration process is under process there, through slowly as some areas are yet to be cleared of militants. But these people will also be released their compensation amount as soon as the verification process completes,” the official tells The News on Sunday.

The programme is being undertaken by the provincial reconstruction, rehabilitation and settlement authority (PaRRSA) with financial support from the United Agency for International Development (USAID).

It was originally to be financed by the World Bank but it wanted to pay money in instalments rather than in one go and had conditioned the release of the subsequent tranches to verification whether the earlier amount had been utilised for the purpose or not. WB had opted out of financing the project after authorities went for an owner-driven reconstruction and payment to the affected people uniformly in one go without establishment of an “assistance and inspection” regime. Later, the USAID agreed to the work-plan of the PaRRSA and became its financier.

Rationalising the amount, another official of PaRRSA tells TNS that according to the census of 1998, the average size of a house is 575 sq ft in Malakand region, in which each unit includes two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. “Per square construction rate in the region is around Rs700 per sq ft and the estimated cost of Rs0.4mn and Rs0.16mn for reconstruction of the completely and partially damaged houses respectively has been derived by multiplying 700 with 575, which is the amount of compensation being made. The reconstruction cost included the brick, stone and block masonry and the rate is also adjusted for better standards and disaster resilience features,” he adds.

To a question about delay in disbursement of money, he says, “The compensation has been delayed as they are either to be verified, have no bank accounts of their own, or their forms are misplaced or they are out of the country when physical verification was being made or the house that has been damaged is jointly owned or they have mistakes in their names/addresses or have double entries due to which their payment is blocked.”

With an overall outlay of Rs6.58bn for total compensation, the damage and needs assessment (DNA) survey conducted by World Bank and Asian Development Bank for the government of Pakistan in 2009, had estimated that 11755 housing units were completely and 11738 partly damaged in the area. But later, the figure was slashed to 7024 for completely damaged and increased to 13039 partly in the two areas for reasons officials could not explain.

As per the DNA, the grants had to be released in tranches based on stages of construction with technical assistance. The proposed mechanism was to be a cash grant-based, owner-driven model but with close monitoring of reconstruction process. The mechanism was changed later to cash payment in one go but change in mechanism was against the experience and decreased the chances that the money would be utilised for its head.

For example, in the reconstruction strategy after Kashmir earthquake 2005, Rs0.175mn was provided to each affected family in instalments along with house designs and technical assistance. At the end of 2009, 95 percent of the destroyed houses were rebuilt with 97 percent of these according to the standards and hence safer.

But in the case of the 2008 Balochistan earthquake, the affected people were given one-time cash grant of Rs 350,000 and Rs50,000 for completely and partially damaged houses respectively but without any technical assistance or required reconstruction standard. The quality of reconstruction, according to UN-HABITAT engineers, was very poor.

There are rumours the money hasn’t been utilised for the purpose. The PaRRSA official says it is not true, “People adjust their incomes and expenses prioritising their needs. Most have built their homes before the compensation began on borrowed money. Now they can utilise the cash to return their debts they had taken for the purpose or divert the money to fulfil their other needs,” he adds.

The official says the damaged houses included luxurious bungalows as well as mud houses and their reconstruction cost was different. “But with our mechanism, the poor benefitted more. The government has only provided the well-off with token money in return for their sacrifices as it had no resources to provide Rs10 million to a rich person for building his destroyed luxurious house,” he says.

People from Swat also allege nepotism, political interference and corruption in the nomination of affectees and payment of compensation money. Tariq Khan from Miandam says the process became defective when the civil administration and the patwari culture got involved.

Militant control and subsequent military campaigns displaced and destroyed shelters and livelihood of hundreds of thousands in other federally and provincially administered tribal areas — Kurram, Orakzai, Khyber, South and North Waziristan and other areas but apart from relief support, no worthwhile rehabilitation support has been given to the affected so far.

 

KP sees a bumper harvest

KP sees a bumper harvest
By Tahir Ali
http://www.dawn.com/2012/01/02/kp-sees-a-bumper-harvest.html

OFFICIALS of the agriculture department in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa say the province produced bumper sugarcane, maize and rice crops in the Kharif season and it hopes a good Rabi harvest on the back of more cultivation of wheat on arid lands throughout the province.

In the current Kharif season, the province had a bumper sugarcane crop, cultivated over an area of 94,370 hectares that produced 43,25,483 metric tons of cane. Land under cane cultivation and its production increased by 6.75 per cent and 7.35 per cent respectively against the previous year.
“The increase was because of a couple of factors. Plenty of standing cane crop had been devastated by floods in the preceding year. As the prices of sugar and gur went up in the last season, farmers went in large numbers for the crop this year. Then, many flood-hit lands were reclaimed either by the government or non-governmental organisations and the farmers themselves.
A blessing in disguise, the floods laid a healthy mud-layer over them on which cane was cultivated. Thus land under the crop as well as production increased,” said Siraj Muhammad, deputy director information, agriculture department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Average per acre yield (PAY) in the province is between 16-24 metric tons (400-600 maunds), much lower than Sindh and Punjab and research stations which produce up to 32-40 tons.
Responding to a question on the less per hectare yield in the province, he said though quantity-wise Sindh and Punjab had better PAY, quality-wise KP’s cane was better as it had better sucrose level.
Another official, who wished anonymity, said the yield could not be increased when there was no liaison with farmers and no coordination between the farmers, and when most farmers resort to intercropping of wheat and cane, use less than the recommended seeds etc.
On maize performance, he said KP had cultivated the crop on 4,42,322 hectares, up by 4.6 per cent than last year and produced 8,04,575 metric tons, up by 8.6 per cent than last year. He said Swat, Dir and Mansehra were the biggest quality maize producers though it was also sown in Mardan, Peshawar, Charsadda and Swabi.
“While the PAY in KP is less than in Punjab, the farmers in the latter province grow mostly hybrid varieties and that too the spring crop wherein the crop gets more time and better climate to develop. Hopefully the trend of using high yielding hybrid seeds is gaining momentum in KP too which will increase total output and PAY in the coming seasons,” he hoped.
According to him, “KP had its rice production increased by 10.85 per cent to 86,471 metric tons and the rice acreage by 4.8 per cent to 48,351 hectares over last season. Swat and Charsadda are the biggest rice producers. Farmers in these areas had reclaimed their lands and cultivated rice on vast tract,” he added.
To a question that vast lands in Batkhela that were used for growing quality rice were still covered with sand and were uncultivable, he said it was because the farmers there utilised the riverbeds and its catchment areas for the purpose which were retaken by floods.
Though Muhammad had no data on the land under wheat cultivation for this year as according to him, wheat growing still continued in parts of the province and may go up to the first week of January, he said wheat was grown on 7,58,738 hectares producing 11,52,470 metric tons last year.
He was hopeful for the next wheat crop in the province, particularly in the rain-fed areas, saying that last year wheat production target surpassed because of rains. Though the meteorological department had forecast rains in December, the continuing dry spell has exposed wheat cultivated in arid lands on hundreds of thousands of hectares to dangers.
The wheat crop in rain-fed areas, especially in southern districts of KP where wheat is overwhelmingly cultivated on arid lands, has been attacked by termite. However, he downsized the danger saying there wouldn’t be any danger to the standing crop even if a light drizzle came down as has been forecast for the first week of January.
“In October this year, it had rained heavily which was not the case last year. Taking advantage of the soil-moisture for these rains, farmers cultivated wheat on vast areas of lands more than the preceding season this year and lush green wheat fields can be seen. The arid lands, which account for around 60 per cent of wheat cultivation areas in the province, are expected to produce bumper wheat crop this year,” he claimed.
Termite usually attacks and destroys wheat crop for lack of soil moisture, increased temperature and failure to treat seeds with anti-termite drugs before sowing.
“The situation in irrigated lands, accounting for 40 per cent wheat acreage, is even better. But farmers need to irrigate their lands before the canals are closed next week for desalination purposes. They should give enough attention to weeds control and use the required amount of suitable fertilisers to get bumper wheat crop,” he suggested.

Walnuts in malakand division

Growing nuts

There is a great potential for planting walnut trees in Malakand and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

By Tahir Ali

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/dec2011-weekly/nos-25-12-2011/pol1.htm#5

The Malakand Division, according to one estimate, accounts for roughly 95 percent of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s walnut yield. Walnut of different sizes, quality, and colour are produced here which are marketed in whole form or its flesh taken out and packed, and is sold in the market. What is being done to increase the yield of dry fruits after the militancy days are over?

In Dir, these days per kilogramme prices of different qualities of walnuts range between Rs100-250 for whole and Rs400-700 for walnut flesh, of pistachio between Rs600-800, of almond Rs150-400 and chilghoza being the costliest of all with Rs1400, according to Saeedur Rehman, a dry fruit dealer in Dir.

Rehman says chilghoza (pine-nut) prices have surged to over Rs70,000 per 50kg (Rs1400) in the whole sale market and it may be sold around for Rs1500-1800 in the open market after adding the transportation charges, dealers’ commission, shopkeepers’ profit and imposition of various taxes.”

Contrary to the general impression, he says, militancy hadn’t badly impacted on the dry fruit production and businesses and opined that prices have come down as compared to last year.

“Prices of whole walnut were around Rs13-14000-50kg last year but this year these have come down to Rs11-12000. It is because there was bumper production this year. While we still have last year’s stock, the produce for this year has arrived in the market.” He believes, “There is no hope for the price-surge as the market is sluggish at the moment. The government needs to make arrangements for purchasing and exporting the commodity. I am sure the country would earn a lot of money in the global dry fruit market by exporting this quality commodity.”

He says, “The price of walnut, a Dir speciality, ranges between Rs5000-12000 per 50kg while that of its pure flesh ranges between Rs22000-35000-50kg. Walnut from Barawal and Bamboret are liked for their big size and taste. The brighter the fleshy part, the higher the price. And the cooler the area where it is produced, the better the taste and quality of the walnut,” he adds.

The sale of the walnut flesh fetches more income for the dealers. That is why people in Dir, rather than selling standing walnut trees or the whole fruit with cover, have started taking out its flesh and packing and selling it. A 50kg sac of whole walnut produces around 22-25kg pure fruit which fetches around Rs22000-35000 in the market, much higher than the whole fruit prices.

The importance of the walnuts cannot be overstated. Dry fruits and winters go hand in hand. While watching movies, reading books or newspapers or partying with friends, dry fruits help warm the body. Dry fruit are not only health-friendly but are also taken as gifts to friends and officials in beautiful packing. But skyrocketing prices are making them an unaffordable luxury for the majority.

Hundreds of tonnes of walnut, pine-nut and other dry fruit are produced in Dir and surrounding districts. Barawal, Dir Kohistan and Garam Chashma, Bamboret and Bony valleys in Chitral produce the best walnut and pine nut. The walnut from Nooristan Afghanistan also reaches the local market.” Experts say walnut helps improve memory, is useful for treating stomach, liver and kidney diseases, for cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure. It helps control cholesterol level, strengthens the walls of blood vessels and prevents diabetes and supports immune system.

Lack of official support, negligence of the concerned departments, continuous deforestation of the existing trees for getting ‘Dandansa’ and other purposes, and non-cultivation of new ones have badly affected the produce.

The government should provide technical advice and support to grow more walnut trees as these are depleting and about 90 per cent of the potential in the area is yet to be utilised.

Rehman was particularly unhappy over cutting walnut trees for getting “dandansa”. “The problem is for dandansa you have to cut down the younger trees whose stem-cover and roots are the best.

Shah Abdar, a Swat-based grower of walnut, says hundreds of tons of walnuts are grown in Bahrain, Kalam and other valleys of Swat, adding that the potential of walnut in the area is not being explored.

Swat is the ideal place for walnut. It usually grows on mountain ridges, in the gorges and river-banks and thus doesn’t impact the already less cultivable land. Walnut could be the greatest source of income for the area people. But despite being the main asset along with fruit, vegetable and livestock, the number of walnut trees has been on the decline and only about 5 to 10 percent of the area in Swat suitable for walnut is utilised..

“The reason for this is absence of personal ownership. The trees so cultivated are often destroyed by the people as there is no sufficient care and security for them. The government and non-governmental organisations need to provide expert advice, walnut plantlets /seeds, and insecticides to farmers to grow more trees. It is only then that the problem will be solved once and for all. In the hope of huge returns, they will do whatever is possible to keep it safe and healthy,” Shah argues.

It can have great financial benefits for the poverty, militancy, and floods-stricken farmers. “Around 5 big walnut trees grow in one canal of land. Farming families usually own less cultivable but much more non-cultivable lands in Swat. If we take the average land per family at 50 canals and the family grows walnut trees on it, it can become millionaire within no time. Just leave the 300kg yield per tree, even if the per tree yield is just 50kg, it will earn the family around Rs2.5million at the current market rate.”

“Though main roads in the area have been repaired to some extent, the link roads to far flung areas are still inaccessible. It leaves the poor people with no choice but to sell their standing walnut trees to dealers on meagre prices, thus incurring losses,” according to him.

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Unaffordable Warmers

By Tahir Ali

Dry fruit –walnut, pistachio, chilghoza, peanuts and almond etc- and winter go hand in hand. While watching movies, reading books or newspapers or partying with friends, dry fruit are munched to warm the body.

Dry fruit are not only health-friendly but are also taken as gifts to friends and officials them in beautiful packets. But skyrocketing prices are making them an unaffordable luxury for the majority.

Dependent upon the taste, health, colour and size, the per kilogramme prices of different qualities of walnut are between Rs100-250 for whole and Rs400-700 for walnut flesh, of pistachio between Rs600-800, of almond Rs150-400 and chilghoza being the costliest of all with Rs1400 in Dir these days, according to Saeedur Rehman, a dry fruit dealer in Dir.

He said chilghoza (pine-nut) prices have surged to over Rs70,000 per 50kg (Rs1400) in the whole sale market and may be sold around Rs1500-1800 in the open market after the transportation charges, dealers’ commission, shopkeeper profit and imposition of various taxes taken into account,” said.

Contrary to general impression, he said militancy hadn’t adversely impacted the dry fruit production and businesses and opined that prices have come down as compared to last year.

“Prices of whole walnut were around Rs13-14000/50kg last year but this year these have come down to Rs11-12000. It is because there was bumper production this year. While we still have last year’s stock, the produce for this year has arrived in the market. There is no hope for the price-surge as the market is sluggish at the moment. The government needs to make arrangements for purchasing and exporting the commodity. I am sure the country would earn a lot of money and get good name in the global dry fruit market by exporting this quality commodity,” he said.

“The price of walnut, a Dir speciality, ranges between Rs5000-12000 per 50kg while that of its pure flesh ranges between Rs22000-35000/50kg. Walnut from Barawal and Bamboret are liked for their big size and taste. The brighter the fleshy part, the higher the price. And the cooler the area where it is produced, the better the taste and quality of the walnut,” he added.

“The sale of the walnut flesh fetches more income for the dealers. That is why people in Dir, rather than selling standing walnut trees or the whole fruit with cover, have started taking out its flesh and packing and selling it. A 50kg sac of whole walnut produces around 22-25kg pure fruit which fetches around Rs22000-35000 in the market, much higher than the whole fruit prices,” he said.

Malakand division accounts for 95 percent of provincial walnut yield. Walnut of different sizes, quality and colour are produced here which are marketed in whole form or only its flesh, taken out and packed, is sold in the market.

“Hundreds of tonnes of walnut, pine-nut and other dry fruit are produced in Dir and surrounding districts. Barawal, Dir Kohistan and Garam Chashma, Bamboret and Bony valleys in Chitral produce the best walnut and pine nut. The walnut from Nooristan Afghanistan also reaches the local market,” he said.

“But lack of official support, negligence of the concerned departments, continuous deforestation of the existing trees for getting ‘Dandansa’ and other purposes, non-cultivation of new ones and some ailments (stem-borer), ignorance of farmers and porcupine attacks have endangered this great asset,” he added

The government should provide technical advice/support, walnut plantlets and seeds to grow more walnut trees as these are depleting and about 90 per cent of the potential in the area is yet to be utilised.

Mr Rehman was particularly unhappy over cutting the walnut tree for getting “Dandansa”. “The problem is for Dandansa you have to cut down the younger trees whose stem-cover and roots are the best Dandansa. Even though it is unlawful to get and sell Dandansa, it continues unabated,” he said.

Shah Abdar, a Swat based grower of walnut, said hundreds of tons of walnuts are grown in Bahrain, Kalam and other valleys of Swat adding that the potential of walnut in the area is far from being utilized.

“Swat is the ideal place for walnut. It usually grows on mountain ridges, in the gorges and river-banks and thus doesn’t impact the already less cultivable land. Walnut could be the greatest source of income for the area people. But despite being the main asset along with fruit, vegetable and livestock, the number of walnut trees has been on the decline and only about 5 to 10 per cent of the area in Swat suitable for walnut is utilised thus far,” he said.

The forest department, he said each year runs tree plantation campaigns but there is no progress on the ground.

“The reason for this is absence of personal ownership. The trees so cultivated are often destroyed by the people as there is no sufficient care and security for them.  The government and non-governmental organisations need to provide expert advice, walnut plantlets/seeds, and insecticides to farmers to grow more trees. It is only then that the problem will be solved once and for all. In the hope of huge returns, they will do whatever possible to keep it safe and healthy,” he argued.

It can have great financial benefits for the poverty/militancy/floods-stricken farmers.

“There are around 5 big walnut tree is one canal of land. Farming families usually own less cultivable but much more non-cultivable lands in Swat. If we take the average land per family at 50 canals and the family grows walnut trees on it, it can become millionaire within no time. Just leave the 300kg yield per tree, even if the per tree yield is just 50kg, it will earn the family around Rs2.5million at the current market rate,” he opined.

“Though main roads in the area have been repaired to some extent, the link roads to far flung areas are still inaccessible. It leaves the poor people with no choice but to sell their standing walnut trees to dealers on meagre prices, thus incurring losses,” according to him.

Experts say walnut helps improve memory, is useful for treating stomach, liver and kidney diseases, for cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure. It helps control cholesterol level, strengthens the walls of blood vessels and prevents diabetes and supports immune system.

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