By Imran Muhammad
Nature has blessed our country with many resources. How efficiently and effectively we use the resources depends on our abilities.
Gojal sub-division, located in Hunza district, is known for producing top varieties of apples, in terms of size, colors, nutritiousness, aroma and taste.
Pakistan produces around 5 thousand tons of apple annually of which 16.7 % is produced in Gilgit-Baltistan, a relatively geographic entity. Comparatively, Iran produced 22 thousand tons and India 22k. China, our neighbor, is on top of the chain.
Pakistan has a great potential to grow apple and other fruits. The sector needs more attention from the federal and provincial governments and the relevant departments.
In Hunza, of which Gojal Valley is an administrative part, initiatives to promote fruit production at mass scale started as early as 1982. With technical support from the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), the fruit farmers were able to improve production, using modern farming techniques. Plantation was also encouraged at mass scale, enabling the local communities to become self-sufficient in production of fruits. During a survey conducted by the World Bank in 2010, in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it was found and recognized that each farmer had grown up up to 100 plants of different fruits. The fruit production, depending on landholding and interest, ranged from 50 kg to 800 kg of fruits annually, per farmer. These tangible results were the reason why development expert like Shoaib Sultan Khan, the renowned rural development scientist, became a household name in Gilgit-Baltistan (then known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan).
But the story did not end here. Excess fruit had to be transported to markets within and outside Gilgit-Baltistan. This remains a challenge event today, due to issues related to energy, access and adoption of modern marketing processes, as well as lack of capital. In the national market, the apples of Gilgit-Baltistan compete with apple produced in other areas, like parts of Balochistan, as well as fruit imported from Iran and other neighboring countries.
Production continues to improve, often with the help of experts from other countries. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had trained some local farmers from Gojal valley, taking them to Japan in 2004, and also in the years after. A project was started by farmers in Moorkhun village of Gojal, for production of imported Apples. The experiment worked and now the Japanese “Golden Apples” are not only famous in Pakistan, but also in the international market.
In 2019, Ghram Willey, Chairman of the United Kingdom’s CDC Investment Group, visited Hunza district in October 2019, and appreciated the farming activities, especially the role of women in the process. Recently, Economic Transformation Initiative, a project financed by IFAD, is also playing an active role making more land cultivable, and also by improving farming techniques. These steps and efforts will go a long way in contributing to social development, starting with poverty reduction.
Efforts are needed at the state and the regional government level to work more closely with the farming communities to further improve apple production in Gojal Valley, where large swathes of land still remain uncultivable due to lack of irrigation channels. Efforts are also needed to improve access to market, to help the farmers utilize their resources even more, and get the right kind of reward for their hardwork.