Militancy, military operation take heavy toll on orchards in tribal districts

The years-long militancy and military operations in tribal districts have damaged around 80 percent of orchards beyond rehabilitation, reveals a report released by Food and Agriculture Organisation.

After peace was restored, the government ignored this sector that once used to be a source of income for thousands of families in the poverty and militancy-stricken tribal areas.

The TNN correspondents have talked to farmers in various tribal districts about pomiculture business.

Nazir Mehsud, a resident of Laddah area of South Waziristan, said there were orchards of Peach, walnuts and pomegranate before they were displaced  from the district in 2009.

“This sector would feed thousands of families but militancy and military operation followed by mass exodus destroyed it completely,” he said.

He said no one left behind to look after their orchards when people forced to leave the area due to Operation Rah-e-Nijat.

“When we came back we saw our orchards were severely damaged in shelling while trees dried due to non-irrigation,” he lamented, adding that thousands of people were rendered jobless.

“The lush green orchards of pomegranate, grapes, almonds and peach have disappeared deprving thousands of their sources of income in North Waziristan,” a local Muhammad Tariq said.

The demand for fruits, grown in tribal areas, were extremely high on the local as well as international markets, says Munir Khan, an official of Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Talking to TNN, he said that there were hundreds of orchards of peach, grapes, pomegranate, walnuts and almond in tribal districts that would financially support thousands of families. “Various surveys and reports reveal that 80 percent of orchards have been damaged due to military operations and militancy,” he said.

He added a large number of orchards have been damaged completely, however, there were some orchards that can be restored with little efforts.

“Fruit trees if neglected for three months attract diseases and become dry,” he maintained and added that same happened in tribal districts from where people had shifted to plain areas and left their orchards behind.

Alamzada, a resident of Orakzai district, recalled the good days when there was peace all around and the district was full of orchards.

“When there was peace, farmers would transport their fruits to fruit market and sell them to traders who used to come from Punjab and transport these fruits back to Lahore and Karachi,” Alamzada said.

Tirah, known for the best quality of oranges, was severely affected in this regard where almost all orchards of oranges, plums and lemon were damaged during lawlessness.

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After repatriation, farmer in area have planted fruit trees and also started restoring the existing orchards, said Muhammad Rafiq, a resident of Tirah. “It might take four more years to start harvesting its fruits,” said Rafiq.

“Around 1500 orchards have been planted across tribal areas during last several years,” said Munir Khan, adding that several government and non-governmental organisations have started providing financial and technical assistance as well as training to farmers.

“We would earn Rs2 million every year from our orchards that helped us to meet our annual expenses and now we are in a fix what to do and where to go to meet both ends meet,” said Nazir Mehsud.