PESHAWAR: Kota area in Barikot tehsil of Swat district is famous for producing best quality peach since the year 2015 but the authorities concerned have ignored this sector, which could generate a huge revenue and employ thousands of people.
“Presently, the locals produce peaches on around 6,000 acres of land and have also employed 50,000 workers, but they are facing problems due to indifference of the government,” said a local landlord Ziyad Khan advocate.
During a visit to the flood-affected areas and seven tehsils of Swat, including Babuzai, Matta, Khwazakhela, Barikot, Kabal, Charbagh and Bahrain, the representatives of Organization for the Development of Gardens urged the government to declare their peach growing business an industry and take practical steps for its promotion.
A retired assistant director of the Fruit and Vegetable Development Board, Salim Khan, said that farmers obtained water for gardens through tube-wells but the water level had been lowering, particularly near the mountains. A number of diseases, high prices of fertilisers, seeds, medicines, etc, has increased financial burden on farmers and there was no planning from the government to overcome their problems.
The increasing prices of medicines and decreasing capacity of consumers was affecting their business. “We purchase different size of cartons for peaches for transportation. We had been purchasing these cartons at around Rs40 to Rs45 but now its prices have jumped to Rs68 to Rs64,” said Amjad Khan.
Arshad Khan, who owns a market in Islamabad, said that due to increase in prices of petroleum products, the rent for a truck has increased from Rs45,000 to Rs90,000 while the same is the case with commission agents, Arthis and other required staff.
The unavailability of any proper storage in Islamabad and other main cities’ markets also destroyed products, he said, adding that the authorities must construct proper storage, which could save the fruit in the winter and summer seasons.
Bakht Rawan Khan and Mohammad Salim complained there were no arrangements for mobile packages like those made for the protection of Kino, mango, etc, while the farm-to-market roads also do not exist.
“There is no processing industry throughout Swat. The increasing electricity bills, unaffordable surcharges and different types of taxes have made life miserable for farmers,” said Ziyad Khan, suggesting the government to establish storage systems according to international standards.
Our monthly bills as well as the prices of DEP and spray have increased almost four times. The prices of every item have increased manifold and the purchasing power of consumers has decreased. Who can buy peaches in these floods, rains and destruction,” Salim Khan said.
They said the government could earn more revenue and generate jobs by upgrading their products as industry and make proper arrangements for export of peaches like those of mango and oranges. Various companies, which sold pesticides worth billions of rupees annually, also failed to take measures for the improvement of the area and farmers.
They said the River Swat has become a source of destruction for them but the government could make it beneficial for people by taking out canals from it, such as Baydarra canal in Matta area.
They said the chief minister hails from Matta, which is why he made the river useful for the locals. Such canals, they said, were the need of the hour and could not only save water but also save people from destruction.
They said the government was concentrating on cement industry, tourism, etc but ignored peace growers who have employed laborers for collecting, packing, loading, unloading of the fruit on trucks, and also paid commissions and taxes to agents and others in the markets.
“My own garden income previous year was Rs5 million but the expenditure this year has reached up to Rs2.5 million, which has reduced my income by almost 50% this year,” stated a grower.
Regarding the government’s announcements for the farmers, he said nothing practical was done for them up till now. This could be judged from the fact that the farmers were charged for the repair work in case any fault surfaced in the electricity transformer, he said.
Another farmer showed his monthly electricity bill saying his real bill is Rs5,740 but with the extra taxes, he was charged Rs37,861. He alleged the farmers were being overcharged for electricity supply.