Strawberry farmers in Kashmir losing out due to lockdown

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Srinagar, May 23 (IANS) There has been a bumper strawberry crop in Kashmir this year; farmers are busy in their fields harvesting their produce and packing it in small boxes but the growers are incurring losses despite the bumper crop due to the lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic.

Shabir Ahmad, a farmer at Gassu village in Srinagar which is famous for its strawberry cultivation, said tourists were major buyers of the fruit in Kashmir. But with tourist inflow dropping drastically during the lockdown, buyers are hard to come by.

“Tourists were major buyers of strawberries in Kashmir but with the surge in Covid cases there has been a sharp decline in the tourist inflow, which has severely impacted the strawberry farmers of Kashmir,” Ahmad said.

Strawberries have emerged as an important cash crop in Kashmir. Over the years many vegetable farmers have switched to strawberry cultivation. But back to back lockdowns in Kashmir during the last two years have acted as a major dampener, bringing down the profits.

Even as the vendors are closed during the lockdown, the administration’s decision to allow the movement of produce in fruit mandis has raised the hopes of farmers to make up for the losses.

“Strawberries have a very short lifespan of just a couple of days. We are thankful to the administration for permitting us to move our produce to the mandi. We hope to get good returns hereon,” Ahmad said.

Kashmir produces 2,000 to 2,500 metric tonnes of strawberries each year. The cool weather makes it suitable for strawberry cultivation. Harvesting started a month late in May this year due to frequent rains. After harvesting the fruit needs to be quickly transported for consumption due to its perishable nature and extremely short shelf life.

“Lot of people associated with strawberry cultivation are now feeling disappointed,” said a strawberry farmer.

“We are not getting good returns for our produce even after putting in a lot of hard work.”

Director Horticulture, Kashmir, Aejaz Ahmad Bhat told IANS that the department knows about the problems being faced by strawberry growers.

The department has proposed to allow the establishment of selling points and marketing facilities for strawberry growers.

“We are apprised of the problems faced by strawberry growers and are ready to help in every possible way,” he said.