District Ramban is one of the hilly districts in the State of Jammu and Kashmir, endowed with appropriate climatic conditions for fostering plants and trees. The climatic conditions vary according to the altitude. In low lying areas like Ramban town temperature goes up to 42˚C and in high ranges it drops to even sub zero level. This climatic variation has broadened the scope for growing varieties of fruit and non fruit bearing trees.At present the district has been divided into four horticulture zones i.e. Ramban, Ramsoo, Banihal and Gool which are mainly growing walnuts, apple, apricot, pears, peach etc. With the untiring efforts of department, plantation of some exotic fruits like Pecan nut, Olive, Plum, Kiwi, Strawberry, persimmon etc has also been encouraged.
Out of the total land in the district, 10461.94 hect has been utilized for growing fruit and nut trees. In the year 2015-16, 19742 metric tons of production was recorded. This shows that horticulture sector is bringing sea change in the life of local people day by day.
The main reason for concentrating on horticulture sector is due to the sloppy, hilly and rough topographical conditions of this district in which agriculture sector finds limited scope for its development and thus prosperity of the poor people lies with horticulture. The people while sitting at home even with little knowledge can increase their income by planting varieties of fruit trees.It was the time when people were solely dependent on maize and some other crops to feed their family and were least bothered for fruit and nut plantation. But for the last some years they have developed passion for growing fruit crops with the help of horticulture department. The officers and officials regularly interact and meet with locals with different policies and innovative techniques right from seedling to storage of production as well as preservation and marketing.
Walnut: The major crop grown in this district is walnut. Around 5193.70 hect of land is being used for developing walnut orchards and around 7247.17 metric tons of production was made in the year 2015-16 . This clearly vindicates that there is a big potential for growing wide varieties of walnut. Major walnut growing areas are Pogal Paristan, Senabati, Hochak, Panchal, Trigam, Neel and Sangaldan. In these areas the farmers are earning a good livelihood from the walnut cultivation.No doubt, Kashmir province is well known for producing the walnut but at the same time it is very right to say that district Ramban can also produce superior qualities of walnut. Besides this district, walnut is also produced in some parts of district Doda, Kishtwar, Rajouri, Poonch including the hilly regions of district Reasi. Among all these districts, top production of walnut comes from Ramban.“ From Pogal Paristan walnut is sold from the plants which are grown with the help of locally prepared manure” said Bashir Ahmed Naik an orchardist of Maligam, Ramban.
Walnut trees normally give rise to fresh shoots during April and May when new leaves sprout and flowers blossom. The ripening of crop takes place in the months of September and October. To collect the fruit from the 80-100 feet high trees in these areas, thin long poles are used to smash the branch ends where the fruits grow. The collected fruit is separated from outer shell and dried on roof tops after a slight wash in water. All family members collectively work in this process. After drying they are packed in bags and sold to the markets of state and outside through the contractors.“I purchase walnuts of crores from Gool, Sangaldan, Pogal Paristan, Neel, Khari, Banihal. Besides this I also collected the crop from Doda and Kishtwar but the best quality of walnut is found in Ramban whose kernel is good in size and taste” said, Farooq Ahmed Wani, a fruit contractor.Another fruit contractor namely Abdul Subhan told that he had purchased walnut from Alanbas, Maligam and Pogal and sold in the Jammu market whose kernel is of higher quality.The department authorities regularly visit the orchards and spread awareness about the methods and local ways of growing the walnut plants. Occasionally the camps are also organized to educate the locals about modern techniques of getting better production from the trees. Every year farmers approach the horticulture department for extension of their fruit orchards and nurseries.At Banihal, Mohammad Ashraf Khan is running a Walnut Processing Unit in which around 200 people including boys and girls are working to earn their livelihood. In this plant, the kernels are extracted from the walnuts. These kernels are graded, vacuum packed in ten brands like Albera No. 1, Raja Evergreen, Raja rare, Raja eternal, Akbar the Great etc. before exporting. The owner of the unit also said that walnut of crores is purchased every year from the local farmers for the markets in Jammu, Delhi, Chennai, Gujrat etc.
Apple: After walnut, comes apple whose plantation covers almost 2773.30 hect of land for annual production of around 7534.72 metric tons. The main varieties of apple are produced in this district are Red delicious and Golden Delicious etc. The local fruit growers are provided with handling units by the department for grading and packing of the apples which are sold directly to markets of Jammu, Punjab and Delhi. It is also providing source of income to many people.
Olive: Olive plantation spreads upto 10.80 hect of land from which 1.07 metric tons production is made every year. Besides this, the department is also running an olive extraction unit at Govindpura Ramban to promote olive plantation. This unit is providing facility of extraction of olive oil free of cost to the olive growers.
Pecan nut: Since pecan nut can fetch more price than walnuts. Thus, experiments are being made regularly to grow pecan nuts in some parts of this district.
Pears: The department is regularly testing the high yielding varieties of pear plants to provide economic benefits to the local people. The department is providing free grafting facility to the farmers to improve the wild pears (Kainth) growing on the uncultivated agriculture land.Wild Pomegranate (Anar dana): Pomegranate is also produced in this district. The department has developed its low cost solar driers to dry the Anar dana economically. Around 1295.69 metric tons of production was made in 2015-16 in the area from Peera to Kanga measuring about 340.46 hect both on state and owned land.To promote exotic fruits, Advance Centre for horticulture development was established in Ramban with the help of Indo-Italian fruits project in 1984-85. The department is also engaged in growing exotic fruits like Olive, Plum, pear, Kiwi, Strawberry etc. In this centre many green house hi-tech canopies have been developed to produce quality planting material. Grafting of walnuts, Kiwi and Stone fruits is also encouraged there and around 5.50 lakh plants were supplied to Patanjli Yog Peeth for compact plantation in the year 2014-15.
There are four nurseries of Walnut, peach, apple and pecan nut at Gool, Sangaldan, Batote and Nowgam to promote plantation in these areas. In these nurseries better quality of plants are grown with the help of grafting. From these nurseries plants are provided to the people on very low rates. Every year there is a continuous expansion in planting different types of fruit bearing trees and now people are finding better financial avenues in horticulture sector.
Moreover, walnuts are more nutritious than the almond, thus more and more stress should be laid on the expansion of walnut orchards. In future with successful completion of highways and railways large number of tourists from India and abroad are expected to enjoy the fresh and exotic fruits besides the scenic beauty. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to expand fruit crop cultivation mainly the walnut to boost the economic potential of this district besides developing fruit processing units, kernel extraction units and fruit drier units to improve the export.