Harsh weather, indecisive trade policy with neighboring Afghanistan, and high inflation have forced farmers in Charsadda to find new ways to harvest strawberries. Strawberry growers say these three factors are major challenges but they are trying new ways to deal with them.
Farmers at Charsadda get better economic benefits from strawberry cultivation. The fruits of their farms are exported both domestically and to foreign countries including Afghanistan. Farmers say if the government guides them, strawberry production will improve further.
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Mudabir Shah, a farmer from the Sarki area of the Charsadda district, has high hopes of good income from his 3-acre farm which is almost covered with ripe strawberries.
He says that this land is perfect for all kinds of fruits, but the inflation in the country and especially the sharp rise in the prices of fertilizers have reduced the profits of these fruits to an extent.
Mudabir Shah said, “DAP fertilizer used to be available for Rs5000 a sack some time ago, which is now worth Rs 11,500. Similarly, insecticides, which were available for five hundred rupees, now cost fifteen hundred rupees in the market. Due to the ongoing inflation in the country, apart from the wages of the workers, the drugs (chemicals) that preserve the crops have also become expensive. Apart from this, the prices of fertilizer have skyrocketed.”
The best season for strawberry production is from February to May. Thirty thousand strawberry plants can be planted on an acre of land and each plant yields half a kilo on average.
Muttahir Shah, another farmer, said that 50,000 kilograms of strawberries are estimated to be produced from three acres of land, which are exported to Gulf countries including Afghanistan. However, most of the farmers suffer due to the unstable trade policy between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Muttahir Shah said, “15,000 or more kilos of strawberries are exported to Afghanistan from our farms every day. If the border is closed, then this fresh fruit spoils on the next day and all the losses have to be borne by the traders.”
Due to their unique taste, color, and high nutritional value, strawberries are much loved by fans who wait for their arrival in the market in spring.
Abdul Qayyum Khan, Head of the Seed section of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Agriculture Department, said that farmers get six times more income from strawberries than other crops and it is a very special fruit of our province.
Abdul Qayyum Khan said, “Strawberry season starts at the end of February and its price is very high at that time. Strawberry production is scarce in our country except for Sindh and it is an essential fruit of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its quality is very standard.
Although strawberries are a profitable crop for farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, climate change poses a major threat. According to the Farmers, this crop gets damaged due to untimely rains and floods.
Mudabir Shah said, “Last year we spent 2 lakh rupees on three acres of land. Due to the rains, the entire field was submerged and the yield was lost. We sold the entire yield for Rs.1 lakh. But now there is profit in the strawberry plants brought from district Dir, those plants are able to withstand harsh weather.”
Farmers said that due to a lack of technical guidelines regarding strawberry cultivation, the production of the fruit is not up to standard due to which they are facing losses.
Farmers say they have used UHDP (Ultra High-Density Plantation) method for strawberries in their fields. Advised other growers to look for alternatives. Reduce the cost of cultivation and find a market for these varieties of fruits.
Khan expects farmers to change traditional practices and introduce profitable strawberries and use intercropping methods to multiply the produce throughout the year.