Chitral is producing a limited quantity of strawberry under agriculture department in Sinlasht Chitral and Booni and small quantity is also grown privately which are used for commercial as well as domestic purposes. Chitral has great potential for strawberry cultivation in large quantity due to its favorable climate, soil fertility, water accessibility and people interest. The farmers having little patches of land can cultivate it in their kitchen gardens, in lawns and in fields as an additional product. Their cultivation on extensive scale can help solve many problems of importance such as vitamin B and C deficiency etc. The farmers need intensive training at the outset and supply of saplings, rootstocks, bare root plant or plug from Swat, Mardan, Charsada or elsewhere latter. Its methods of cultivation, favorable climate, kinds of strawberries, diseases etc were discussed with an agriculturist in the agriculture Research Institute Sinlasht Chitral. Explaining the method of strawberry cultivation the agriculturist said that strawberry cultivation follows one of two general models, annual plastic culture or a permanent system of matted rows.
The commercial cultivators of strawberry use the plastic culture system which is expensive and not affordable in terms of cost for general public. Under this system, raised beds formed each year are purified with fumes and covered with plastic sheet to prevent weed growth and erosion. Plants usually obtained from the nurseries are planted through holes dug in this covering, and irrigation is made through tubes or plastic pipe. The creeping plants are removed from the strawberry foliage as they appear, to encourage the plants to put most of their energy in to fruit development. At the end of the harvest season, the plastic is removed and the plants are plowed into the ground. Because strawberry plants more than a year or two old begin to decline in productivity and fruit quality, this system of replacing the plants each year allows for improved yields.
The second major method, which uses the same plants from year to year growing in rows or on mound, is most common in colder climate. It has lower investment costs, and lower overall maintenance requirements. Yields are typically lower than in plastic culture. This method could be used in Chitral at initial stage and slowly and gradually it could be developed and replaced by plastic culture system.
Strawberries may also be propagated by seed, though this is primarily a hobby activity, but it is not widely practiced commercially. Seeds are acquired either from commercial suppliers or collecting them from the fruit. Strawberries can also be grown indoors in strawberry plots, between the young fruit plants, in sides of vegetable gardens and within the maize crops for domestic consumption.
In Chitral and Drosh the ideal time for strawberry cultivation is March while in Booni and Mastuj it can be cultivated in April as it ensures good development for increased productivity. The women of the area express their willingness to cultivate strawberry in their kitchen gardens, in the nurseries, in the gardens between the rows of young fruit trees until they become of bearing age and in the sides of the crop fields as hobby if they are given training. The fruit plants get energy from the use of additional fertilizer and weeding of grasses and runners being grown beneath them. Because strawberries are such plants which cannot put adverse effect on the quality of growing plants instead they can help in their germination because of additional use of chemical fertilizer, local manure, pesticides and herbicides. During cultivation such saplings are buried with great care not closer than six to eight feet to fruit trees so that weeding and cleaning of herbs could be done easily.
I personally saw a big plot full of strawberries reaped in June last year at Mastuj. The rootstock had an extensive gristly root system which was brought there from Gilgit. The cultivator didn’t know its name. He called it Chinese mulberry which slowly and gradually developed best in loose sandy soil with easier weed control, easier harvest, less fruit decay and fewer foliage diseases. The reaped and fully developed strawberries were sent to the relatives’ and friends as innovative gift in packed form. Probably, in each household two or three plants were seen germinated in its kitchen garden with full swing and energy. The farmer was proud to have such a novel sprout which was not available in other parts of the district. It was strawberry; really it was a fantasy for the people of the area. Strawberries were slightly sour, delicious and healthy despite the fact that during cultivation proper method was not adopted.
Awareness about modern techniques among the farmers who are willing to cultivate strawberries need to be created through organizing intensive training. Use of fertilizers before planting, water duration, frost protection measures, soil test, use of herbicides, mechanical control system to reduce weed population etc are fundamental requirements for the cultivators of strawberries. For this work an expert from agriculture department need to be hired. The concerned expert will procure saplings of different kinds from Swat, Mardan, Turnap farm Peshawar after organizing intensive training at community levels. The Resource Person will be given training fee at reasonable rate during the training period and actual expenses for backup support after the training. The Resource person will supervise the activities relating strawberry round the year. Like honey bee keeping it is also an income generating activity especially designed for women population who are willing to cultivate it in their respective localities in order to enhance the level of their income. After proper cultivation strawberries could cause elevation of women income at substantial level.
A lot of pests which include slugs, moths, fruit flies, chafers, and strawberry root weevils are supposed to attack strawberries directly and indirectly. To eliminate them at the beginning of germination of strawberries, quality pesticides need to be provided after proper training is given.
Strawberry plants can also suffer diseases which attack to its leaves by a powdery yeast, leaf scar, and slime molds. During watering of strawberry fungus is doubted to be emerged. Against these diseases one time quality insecticides and other medicines are also required to be provided to the strawberry cultivators.
In Chitral many organizations are working in development sector including infrastructure, livestock, agriculture and NRM. There is no village in Chitral which is inaccessible, there is no village which has not been connected with electricity and there is no barren land which has not been brought under irrigation but Chitral is much behind in agriculture and enterprise development sector. Our NGOs should pay attention towards it. Strawberry cultivation is a lucrative business especially for women. It is grown on small pieces of land like kitchen garden or on sides of agriculture fields which are left unutilized. It is important that before initiation of this activity four days intensive training must be organized one for the women in Tehsil Mastuj and another in Tehsil Chitral. At the initial stage this activity should be started at limited level. When the desired result start to be achieved, this process should be replicated to other areas through establishment of permanent strawberry nurseries in different localities of Chitral district. In upper Chitral strawberries are cultivated without understanding its name and method of cultivation. Still the yields level is encouraging, if proper methodology is adopted for its cultivation, it will enhance the income of the people substantially.