The smiles have returned on the faces of Kashmir’s strawberry farmers after demand for the luscious fruit soared for the first time in two years.

Strawberry season’s first harvest is underway in Kashmir. This year the production is expected to cross 2,500 metric tonnes.

For the last two years, strawberry farmers suffered huge losses as the produce could not be shipped to mandies due to the Pandemic induced lockdown.

“This year, the market is very good for strawberries. A tray of strawberries is sold at Rs 250-400, while a box sells at Rs 50-140. It is after two years that the farmers are reaping benefits,” said farmer Shabir Ahmad.

Due to a short shelf-life, the strawberries are now being locally consumed in the valley. The crop is produced in selected areas including Khimber, Dhara, Tangmarg, and Gussu. Shabir said that the supply of the fruit will increase in the coming weeks as the harvest is yet to begin in some places.

The farmers claim that the inclement weather conditions have impacted the quality of the strawberry this season. “We witnessed dry weather in March and later heavy rains in April. The weather pattern affected the quality of the strawberry. Had the weather been favourable, the demand would have been even more,” said Manzoor Ahmad, a grower and a dealer of strawberries from Harwan.

Strawberry growers are demanding that shipping facilities be provided so they can send the fruit to other states. “We don’t understand why our strawberries don't reach other states. The Department of horticulture should have taken measures to ship our produce to other places,” said Ahmad. Strawberry is the first fruit that grows after six months of harsh winters in Kashmir, and must be supplied to various parts of north India including Delhi.