A tiny village of Repora in the central Kashmir encircled with mountains of great Himalayan Range comprising 500 to 600 households is known for high quality production of grapes.
Within days of the harvest, the customers make a beeline outside grape orchards and the stock gets exhausted. This year also the grapes soon after harvest were sold out like hot cakes.
“Now people know the value of crop and there is advance booking of this fruit that is found in abundance in our area Ganderbal. This year due to hot weather, the harvest began much ahead of its season,” said sarpabch Repora, Habibullah Magray.
The grapes and sweetness of this village has been mentioned some 600 years ago by a famous Sufi saint of Kashmir, Sheikh Noorudin Wali in his poetry. And villagers claim since then this place is known for its finest grapes. Presently, villagers here cultivate varieties like Hussaini, Sahibi, Kishmish, Anabeshai and Ruby and once the crop is ready there is a beeline of customers to fetch the yield. The bunches of the grape varieties could be found hanging in every village household and orchards are full with grapes which catches the attention of every passerby.
Such is the love for grapes, a “special day” named after this fruit was celebrated in the first week of August and officials and villagers gathered at the grape orchards of the village to highlight the importance of this crop. “Every house has a grape courtyard. Some have small and others big. Some plots are spread on a few hectares of land,” Habibullah said adding that the climate of their village is feasible for grape cultivation.
“Even dozens of families earn their livelihood by selling the grapes and every year the expansion of grape orchards is happening which is an encouraging sign for the entire village.
A water channel passing through the village perhaps is a blessing for the growers as their grape orchards always get water whenever required. The irrigation canal was constructed more than a decade ago and now farmers are getting its benefits.
“For us the irrigation canal is a gift that has helped in turning around the economy of our village,” said Magray.
In Kashmir as per the official estimates, the grapes are cultivated near 500 to 600 hectares of land and production goes upto 1100 to 1500 Metric tons every year, alone in Repora the production touches from 750 to 900 meteric tons and the fruit is cultivated on 850 to 900 hectares of land. The grapes produced in the village are sold between Rs 200 to Rs 350 per kilogram depending on the quality of the fruit.
Seeing their fruit harvest going up year after year has made the villagers happy and they even encourage their younger generation towards the grape cultivation…
“What’s encouraging for us is that our younger generation is very much interested in grape cultivation, seeing the prospective benefits,” said Abdul Rahim Bhat, who has a couple of grape orchards close to his house.
Bhat who is in mid-sixties has been in grape cultivation for the last three decades learning trade tricks from his grandfather and father…”We use minimal pesticides in our orchards at times we don’t use anything and our production is increasing day by day. The growers here have slowly replaced old techniques with new ones. The introduction of trails system and hail nets has helped in production and its safeguards and our next target is to go for organic grapes,” he said.
Grapes are usually ready for harvest in early September, however, this year due rise in the temperature, growers have already completed the harvest and sold most of their produce weeks before the original dates.
While the grape orchards in the village are flourishing, a big orchard managed by the J&K’s horticulture department at neighbouring Kralbagh that is spread over 3.5 hectares of land presents a shabby look as the matured grape trees have got affected with disease and the harvest is less than 75 percent compared to previous years. Even the big orchard known as Maharaja orchard owned by erstwhile Maharaja Hari Singh is also in bad shape. Now the orchards are under the control of the J & K government.
Dr.Farooq Ahmad Ahanger, specialist Plant Protection, Krishi Vigyan Kendra Ganderbal Ssaid with every passing year production of grapes in village are increasing as growers are bringing more and more land under grape orchards. “Of late the area for grape cultivation in the village has increased. The climate and soil of the village is favourable for the grape cultivation. We have devised spray schedules after proper research that has also helped in production.”
The villagers who are now grape entrepreneurs have urged the government to create more facilities for them within the village and provide them facilities like referigation vans and cold storage facilities, besides introduction of latest techniques. “Our production could increase manifold and could become a reason for the good employment generation in future. The government helped us in replacing the wooden trails system with the iron trails system that has been very useful. Now we want the government to give special priority to this village and its finest grapes,” said Abdul Majid, another villager.
Due to grapes produced, Gandebal district has been declared as Grape district and in August Grape day was celebrated in the village where officials and growers had a threadbare discussion on how to flourish this trade in the region.