While it is being widely believed in Kashmir that the Horticulture Development farm at Zainapora is the largest in Asia, but officially there is no confirmation about it.“We don’t know about the status of this apple producing farm if it is the largest in Asia or in the world. But in J&K, it is the largest apple farm,” said Minister for Public Works and Parliamentary Affairs, A R Veeri in the assembly in reply to a question about the rank of this apple farm.
However, the government said that clonal rootstock are being propagated and multiplied on scientific lines at this farm and distributed among the farming community of the State to increase productivity for realizing better stocks.
The visit to the place exposes the tall claims of the government. The Apple farm is visibly losing its sheen. Large number of plants have decayed and dried up due to inadequate water supply and other related things which has in turn affected its overall production.
Furthermore, the farm faces acute shortage of manpower. To look after 130 hectares (2600 kanals) of land, there are only some five gardeners against the need of 338 gardeners, sources said.
“We produce different varieties of apple saplings. We also have exotic saplings which we distribute. We also hold open sale here,” said an official, adding, they manage the things here by employing some casual labourers.
Established in the year 1989, the Apple farm is managed by the horticulture department and was formerly known as “Indo-Bulgarian project” but the name was changed to “Advanced Centre for horticulture development.”
It has three main blocks- the high density apple orchard, the nursery block and the FAO walnut block. The farm was primarily established to serve as a demonstration centre for modern horticulture practices for orchard and nursery management.
According to the locals this vast land was acquired by state Government but was later given on lease to central government (Drug research of India) for 20 years, which they utilized for raising medicinal plants. After expiry of the lease, the state government then handed over the land to agriculture department to raise fodder and other field crops till 1988-89.
In the year 1989-90, when the militancy started in Kashmir, the land was transferred to horticulture department for propagation of clonal root-stock and establishment of high density orchard in collaboration with Bulgarian government. The Bulgarian government experts have left the project half-way due to the prevailing turmoil in the valley, without achieving the required goal.