By Prof. Rahmat Karim Baig
Chitral lies in the extreme north of KPK and has been divided into two districts- upper Chitral and lower Chitral. It is now connected with Pakistan through a tunnel that has been completed only three years ago. In the past the road to Chitral from Peshawar was narrow and risky and zigzagged over Lowari pass. The people of Chitral had no communication links with neighbouring states except a few months in summer. In their landlocked homeland they lived on agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry.
Moreover, they grew fruit trees and ate fresh fruit in summers and dry fruits in winters to supplement their food provisions. They used to grow and still do, fruit trees like apples, apricots, mulberries, pear, peaches, walnut, plums, musk melon, figs, cherries, grapes, pomegranates, almonds etc. and dried a good amount of these fruit in summer and stored them for use in winters. Mulberries were dried in large quantities and also sold to Pathan traders who carried them to trans Lowari Pathanistan , and sold as a specialty of Chitral but other fruits were not carried due to poor road and transport system of those days. TooT was a treat from Chitral and liked by Pathans.
The tradition of growing fruit trees and grafting to improve the quality of fruits was known in Chitral since long and they improved the quality of their fruit learning from each other. This grafting was done in early spring at the arrival of vernal equinox by using shoots from better quality trees to poor quality trees and the other was done in June and July using only the leaf and its base on the branch of a poor quality tree. Both did succeed almost 50 percent. This was an interesting hobby and lucrative one as well. Beside cultured fruit trees mentioned above, the soil of Chitral is rich and fertile and also grows wild fruit trees like Russian olive, berries, wild grapes, stone fruits, oleasters, pomegranates etc.
All fruits were used fresh, sent to friends and relatives both fresh and dried. They were highly valued. Dry apples were also crushed and grounded into powder which was called “BELING ” and used as an alternative food item as well as beverage and the same type of powder was made from dry mulberries and mixed with walnut kernel and used as medicine for Sciatica and other ailments. Oil was extracted from the kernel of walnut, apricot and some other trees and used as cooking oil.
The fruit growing tradition is still alive and blooming, more apple, apricot, cherry trees are being grown for cash income. In future this side of the village economy of Chitral will develop and has a bright future and our government must sponsor this side of agriculture ( Pomology) beside food crops of cereals like wheat, barley, rice etc. This will help the local inhabitants and improve the supply of food variety for the people who live in the mountains and high valleys of Chitral where resources are scanty and transport system poor and costly. The people of Chitral are not very hard working but growing fruits is comparatively easier work than other professions so this is liked by many farmers and lovers of horticulture.
The agriculture department should take active measures to help the cultivators and horticulturists and publish the latest skills to improve fruit qualities, packaging, drying and storage methods, marketing net work of the products of all the stake holders. Horticulturists should be invited to a general meeting and sub committees are to be organized for better linkage among all the interested entrepreneurs. The products of the low and high altitude areas be grouped and formed to cooperate with each other and disseminate the latest info on the field and be linked with some good Institution for better guidance. It is a good prospect for Chitral and its fertile valleys to get as much land produce from their smaller plots but for God’s sake abstain from use of chemical fertilizers; use only holistic and traditional fertilizer and manure.