Saturday, 6 February 2016

Horticulture in the mountains.

Horticulture occupies an important position in the farming system of hilly areas. Each agro-climatic zone has its own potential to grow specific fruits, vegetables and floricultural crops.

The upland areas constitute 60-65 per cent (high uplands, 22-25 per cent; and low uplands, 38-40 per cent) of the total land area and support about 10 per cent of the total population of 140 millions.
These areas have always been neglected and marginalized for developmental activities. The importance of high value cash crops for improving the economy of the upland populations has been realized in several pockets of the mountainous regions. These provide a unique opportunity of unprocessed, semi processed, and processed products, for example, fresh and dry fruits, vegetables, spices, mushrooms, medicinal and aromatic plants and floricultural products. Promotion of horticulture with several of these components of cash crop farming needs much attention in the development priorities.
Among the fruit and nut crops, apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums, cherries, walnuts, peanuts and almonds are cultivated as cash crops under wide array of agro-ecological conditions of the uplands.
Himalayan region has monopoly for growing temperate fruits like apple, pear, peach, plum, apricot, cheery, walnut, etc., grown at elevation of 1,000 to 3,000 meters above the sea level. These are cash-fetching fruits. But one may include several types of subtropical and tropical fruits also in the category of hill fruits. These fruits not only supplement the diet of the native people, but form important items of our exports. These are cultivated in the hills for the comparative advantage of late maturity and off-season marketing benefits.
Besides fruits, a variety of off-season vegetables have also become known for their high value farming potential. These include tomato, cauliflower, capsicum, peas, potato, ginger and garlic. Two or three crops of many of these vegetables are grown in a year, using different agro-climatic conditions prevailing at different elevations.

Gilgit Baltistan is ideally suited for production of exotic, high-value vegetable crops like asparagus, broccoli and mushrooms. Foreign exchange earnings through exports of fruits and vegetables are a scope to increase production by using proper management practices in orchard and vegetable fields.
Moreover, exportable quantity as well as value can be further increased by adopting standard post-harvest procedures. Major buyers of the horticultural products are Dubai, India, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the UK.
The pockets of micro-climates separated by high mountains provide ideal environment to produce seeds of a wide range of vegetables, where the risk of losing parental lines of high value seeds is minimal. Skardu, Ghanche ,Quetta Division, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Northern Chitral, Gilgit, Ziarat, Chaman, Sulaiman Range around Fort Munro and Southwest corner of Swat are the potential areas for seed production of horticultural crops.
Due to varying agro-climatic conditions, hilly areas are in a unique position to produce a wide variety of flower seeds which could not only fulfil local demand but also be sold in international markets. In the summer season, zinnia, marigold, gladiolus, salvia, dahlia, canna can be grown extensively. In winter and spring, most of the annual flowers such as dianthus, pansy, antirrhinum, helichrysum, papaver, verbena, and sunflower can be grown.
Due to the variations in climate, topography and vegetation, Pakistan has a diversity of ornamental and flowering plants which could be scientifically cultivated to promote exports. Cut flowers like carnations, gerbera, rose and chrysanthemum offer very good prospects. Prospects of cultivation of bulbous cut flowers - tulipa, gladiolus, iris, polyanthes, narcissus and freesia should be assessed for commercial production.
Pakistan has competitive advantages in floriculture due to favourable agro-climatic conditions, easy availability of land, cheap labour and proximity to markets in Japan, Pacific Rim, South-East Asia and the Middle East countries, which have a large growing demand.
Moreover, in West, the biting cold of winter months curtails flower production during Christmas and New Year, when the demand for flowers increases four folds. As this period is the prime cultivation time in Pakistan, the potential in enormous. Season for cut flower production is during the period from November to April. Thus maximum availability exists during the first and last quarters, commanding highest prices in the international markets.
In addition to providing job opportunities in cultivation and post-harvest aspect of this industry, many side businesses could also be developed including manufacturing of pots, flower-holding materials (baskets, vases and chemicals), wrapping material for cut flowers, fertilizer, garden tools and implements etc. All of these aspects of production, marketing and export would raise the income of the community living in the hilly areas.
There is good scope for the production of high value, low volume crops like saffron, black zeera and other spices especially in Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir region. It was estimated that about 13,000 people could earn their wages by selling the seeds of Pinus girardiana during a good yielding year in Sulaiman range area. There is a huge potential of trading medicinal plants from upland areas.
For example, annual consumption of medicinal plants from these areas by 10 dawakhanas was more than 6,50,000kg from 200 species. The scale of trade was Rs18 million.
Many varieties of edible mushrooms are found in a wild state in the lowlands, the hills and mountains of Pakistan. A rare variety similar to European types known as “Guchchi” is found in the hills and mountains under natural is called bifuri sna in Balti and morale in Endlish.its production technology under natural conditions has been developed by agriculture Department GB,
Among the cultivated varieties, Agaricus bisporus, Pleorotus spp and Volvariella are important. The temperature and humidity conditions necessary for growing Agaricus bisporus (button mushroom) are very satisfactory in the hilly regions. The Pleorotus spp. (oyster mushroom) and Volvariella (paddy-straw mushroom) grow easily during most part of the growing season.
Comparative advantage of horticulture over grain farming: Land records of apple growing areas show that most orchards have been established using 70 per cent of barren uncultivated land and only 30 per cent of agricultural land. Perennial cash crops such as trees and shrubs have the comparative advantage of tolerance to harsh environmental conditions like steep rocky upland slopes, frost-prone locations, shallow soil conditions, etc.
Drought-resistant tree crops such as almonds, which survive in apparently water less conditions, are offering scope for cash crop farming under most harsh agro-climatic environments in the uplands. The potential of horticultural crops can never be under estimated for upland agricultural development, focusing on the sustainability aspects of farming, since the tree crops on marginal lands offer the possibility of higher production and income.
Generally, food grain production is around two mt/ha under Himalayan region conditions but fruit yield of apple trees equals to that of 10 times of the cereal grains from the same area. This establishes the fact that tree crops have the potential of offering sustained high levels of productivity on less fertile marginal and fragile lands, where annual crops can never be grown profitably.
Comparative advantage of marketing over plains:
Diverse agro-ecological conditions available in the upland areas form niche for horticulture, floriculture, cultivation of spices and medicinal plants, because of the peculiarity of agro-ecological requirements of these crops. Some with wide and some with narrow range; these crops can be grown in the hills and uplands with a comparative advantage over the plains.
Since plains have big comparative advantage in growing cereal crops, it is logical that alternative cash crop farming with right niches would give better benefits to the upland farming communities. In doing so, farmers have two-fold benefits, first agro-ecological, in the sense that the particular cash crops can be grown in particular available climate only, and second the comparative advantage of marketing in the sense that products do not face competition from farming in the plains. Instead it is profitably used as consumptive market for upland products and for easy access to food grains.
There are many limitations in regard to the development of horticulture in uplands. These include:
* Low productivity of fruit crops
* Great variability in important crops like walnut and almond
* Higher percentage of off-grade fruit
* Small and fragmented land holdings
* Poor connectivity with the market place
* Lack of proper marketing facilities to the growers
* Lack of promotion zone to promote the export of selected fruits and vegetables including strawberry, mushroom and cumin seed
* High post-harvest losses. Various reports have indicated that an estimated 50 per cent of fresh cash crops, fruits and vegetables are lost after harvest by the upland farmers of the hilly areas.