By Parvez Butt
Srinagar, May 29 : Red, tangy, juicy strawberries are the flavour of the season in Kashmir. A timely rainfall in the Kashmir Valley has cheered strawberry growers who are now expecting a bumper crop this season.
Acres of strawberry fields are spread across the lush green slopes as more and more farmers have opted for a diversification in crops.
Strawberries are grown during October and is harvested in early May.
Low temperatures and bright sunshine have drawn several farmers to opt for strawberry farming in the Kashmir valley, moving away from the paddy crop.
According to the State horticulture department, the strawberry production reaps rich dividends as compared to other crops.
"Growers get a good return with this crop. The cost-profit ratio has been highest in this crop. If we spend one rupee, we get minimum seven to eight rupees in return. It is not the same in case of other crops," said Manzoor Ahmed, the Chief Technical Officer in the Horticulture Department.
Besides, the strawberry production is also expected to increase considerably this year, especially considering the favourable weather conditions. Last year, the production was seven to eight metric tonnes per hectare.
The strawberry growers as per official estimates are expected to reap strawberries worth 45,000 to 50,000 rupees (1,053.86 to 1,170.96 dollars) per kanal (one hectare is equivalent to 20 kanals) brought cheer to the farmers.
Farmers have been involved in the entire procedure ranging from cultivation to its packaging and marketing and as many as eleven imported varieties of the fruit are being cultivated by them.
According to the growers, due to snowfall and timely rains this year, there has been increase in the strawberry production.
"In a complete season for one 'kanal' (land measuring 5,400 sq. ft.), a hardworking farmer can earn about 30,000- 40,000 rupees from strawberries. And from this village, per day between 2,000 to 3000 kilograms of fruit is being supplied to the market," said Shahid Mir, one strawberry grower.
Farmers have urged the government to undertake processing of the fruit as well, which would further add value to their produce.
At present, the strawberries from the valley are supplied to States in north India including the national capital New Delhi.
The cool and dry climate of Kashmir is suitable for exotic fruits like apples, pears, cherries, plums, grapes, mulberry, peaches, apricots, walnuts and almonds which require moderate rainfall and bright sunshine.