Six years ago, Ghulam Ahmad Itoo embarked on a journey that would sow the seeds of a remarkable transformation in the picturesque valleys of Kashmir.
His voyage took him to the lush orchards of Himachal Pradesh, where he encountered a small persimmon orchard that would forever change the course of his life. The diminutive, tomato-like fruit captivated his curiosity, prompting him to delve deeper into its secrets.
Over the next few days, Itoo sought out experienced cultivators, absorbing a wealth of knowledge about this newfound gem.
Upon returning to his homeland, Itoo wasted no time in putting his newfound wisdom to the test. He brought back persimmon saplings and seeds to Sonigam village, a tranquil hamlet nestled just 4 kilometres from the bustling town of Kulgam in South Kashmir. Little did he know that this experiment would soon yield bountiful results, transforming the landscape and, subsequently, the lives of his community. “The experiment worked,” remarked Shabir Ahmad, Itoo’s son, with an air of triumph and promise.
Almost 4 years later, the persimmon trees began bearing fruit and this year the family harvested a bumper crop.
The fruit is native to China and was subsequently introduced to Japan and Korea. These three nations are the top producers of the fruit. In India, the fruit, locally known as Amlok or Japanese phal, is grown in Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Nilgiri Hills. The fruit is a powerhouse of antioxidants and is rich in potassium, manganese and vitamins like A, C and B.
“The trees enter the fruit-bearing stage within four years,” said Ahmad.
According to Ahmad, unlike apple farming, persimmon trees do not require recurring spells of pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers.
“We do not use any pesticides. This is absolutely an organic type of farming,” he said.
“Persimmon trees produce significantly higher yield than the apple trees”.
Persimmon trees grow over 12 feet and resemble pear trees. The fruit is usually harvested between September to October. Two key verities of the persimmons are Hachiya and Fuyu.
“Hachiya is an astringent variety while Fuyu is a non-astringent variety”, said Ahmad.
He said that one could reap rich dividends from persimmon farming.
Last year, he sold a 6 kg box of persimmons at Rs 700. The local street vendors sell 1 kg of fruit at Rs 100 to Rs 120.
“ In outstation mandis, the produce could be sold even at higher more.”
He said that this year a few trees in his small orchard yielded over 1800 kgs of fruit, fetching him over Rs 2 lakh.
“The input costs are minimal in persimmon cultivation and the yield is higher”, he said
Ahmad said that apple and other farming were becoming more expensive due to higher input costs.
“Farmers should pursue progressive farming and experiment with new crops and use modern technology. The internet could be a great source of information and knowledge about raising the new crops”, he said.
He said that the farmers could also seek help from the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences ( SKUAST) and the Department of Agriculture and Horticulture.
Ahmad has also raised a persimmon nursery, which sprawls over one kanal of land in his native village. The nursery houses around 4,000 persimmon plants.
From November 15, Ahmad is planning to sell the plant material.
Last year, he distributed hundreds of plants, free of cost, among his neighbours to prod them into persimmon farming.
“One could earn a decent living by taking to persimmon farming,” said Ahmad.