MULTAN,The trend of cultivating strawberry is surging among farmers living in the riverine belt of the River Chenab as cultivators are much content with its profit ratio as compared to traditional crops.
The traditional crops of the single-cropping belt located on both banks of the river are wheat and vegetables. Local farmers have been cultivating the two crops since generations, but they have now started cultivating strawberry as an alternative crop for the last few years.
“Some eight years ago, farmers hailing from the upper Punjab had started the cultivation of strawberry after acquiring land on lease from locals. But for the last four years, locals have also started to cultivate the crop after calculating the profit margin of traditional crops and the strawberry crop” said Malik Mumtaz Bhapla, a farmer of Mauza Muhammadpur Ghota.
He said the strawberry cultivated during the month of October and it started giving fruits in January till late March, adding that the fruit maturity period was short and ranged from 30 to 40 days.
He said small farmers were unable to cultivate strawberry due to limited resources as the per acre input cost of the crop was not less than Rs400,000, but the middleman has started giving loans to farmers who cannot afford the input cost.
“The profit against per acre is more than the input cost which is encouraging farmers to cultivate strawberry instead of traditional crops”, he said.
Bhapla said since the profit margin in vegetables and wheat crop was much less than the strawberry, the cultivated area of strawberry was being increased every year.
“Now we are cultivating wheat only for our own need. Besides strawberry we are also cultivating onion and garlic that also increase the margin of profit up to Rs150,000 per acre”, he said.
He said the distance between rows was not more than one feet and the plant-to-plant it was 3-5 inches while the total plant population maintained was 120,000 per acre. They obtained strawberry runners from Swat as the plant was grown in cold areas, and then they were shifted to hot areas for getting fruits.
Presently, he said Multan was the only market of strawberries due to less cultivation and it was sold at Rs100 per kilo.
He said the strawberry pulp was used in preparing jam, syrup and other delicacies and workers of various fruit processing companies visited the area at the end of the season because of drop in the prices of the crop.
Akbar, a middleman at the vegetable and fruit market of Soraj Miani, said the strawberry-cultivated area of Rangpur tehsil in Muzaffargarh district was many times more than the cultivated area of Multan.
“Earlier, only well off people were able to purchase this fruit which was imported from India in small boxes of one kilo for Rs400 to Rs500, but now the fruit is available at Rs180 to Rs200 per kilo.
Agriculture Officer Liaquat Gondal said the strawberry was an exotic fruit but now it was being cultivated on a large scale throughout the country, including Mingora, Swat, Lahore, Multan, Muzaffargarh and some cities of Sindh.
He said the planting of strawberry was being done in raised beds and its fruit was soft and perishable while its quality was affected when it touched the soil.
Gondal said the climate of riverine belt was suitable for the cultivation of this crop as it could not survive in high temperature.
He said the quality and size of the fruit being produced in Multan and Muzaffargarh was not as that of the fruit of Swat and other areas.
He said the department had no data of the cultivated area of strawberry in the district as the crop was being cultivated on small area.
However, he said, keeping in view the increasing trend of cultivation, the department was considering collecting the data of the strawberry-cultivated area.