Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the most beautiful regions of Pakistan. Nature has gifted this region with immense beauty and blessings, including the highest peaks, lakes, and largest glaciers, rivers and variety of fruits. One of the most precious gifts by Allah is the blessing of apricot, the major one among the variety of fruits in Gilgit-Baltistan. The region is the largest apricot producing region in Pakistan. Apricot is the most common fruit grown with an average of 15 trees per household and it is estimated there are a total of 2,971,935 apricot trees in GB.
It merits a mention here that apricots are by far the single largest livelihood source with immediate commercial potential for a significant proportion of population in Gilgit-Baltistan. Moreover, about 40 per cent of the rural households in the region annually earn Rs5,000 to 6,000 from apricot and its by-products.
Apricot has a long and interesting history. It is generally believed that the origin of apricot is in China and Central Asia, where the fruit has been cultivated for food as well as for its therapeutic properties for more than 4,000 years. The apricot tree has also been grown in neighbouring India and Tibet since times immemorial. According to ancient records, the Hunzas, who inhabited the Himalayan Mountains in the northern regions of present-day Pakistan and were acknowledged for their vigour and long life span, cultivated and treasured apricot for its aptitude to foster health for more than 1500 years.
Apricots not only taste good, they are also packed with good nutrients. Some of the nutrients found in apricots include: vitamin A and C, fiber, and potassium, which can help protect eyes and heart as well as digestive system. Dried apricots are an excellent source of iron.
In Gilgit Baltistan, apricots along with other deciduous fruits are primarily produced as cash crops where majority of families grow apricot. The practice of planting seeds from the best trees over an extended period of time has resulted in an incredible amount of variation.
Fruits have mainly been produced to meet annual family needs for dry fruit particularly during severe winter. Among all respondents 76% ranked apricot as their most preferred fruit tree. Because apricot would meet most of their subsistence needs. Dried apricot and kernels are main dry fruits for winter. Most fuel wood is obtained from apricot trees. Oil from kernels is obtained for various domestic uses. Cracked kernel shells are also used as fuel.
Thirty per cent of the rural households in GB annually earn between Rs 6,000 to 8000 from apricot and its by-products. A farmer often has as few as two or three trees of the same cultivar mixed with other.
Varieties of apricot grown in Baltistan are Halmand, Wahphochuli, Lonakpochuli, Sherakarpochuli Shakhanda, Margulam, Karpochuli, Ambah, Staachuli, Khochuli and Brochuli.
Names of some local cultivars of Gilgit region are Dugli, Neeli, Bedeiri, Chalpachu, Loli, Frugui, Khormagui, Alishah Kakas etc. In Hunza, one of the larger fruited cultivars has outstanding quality for both fresh as well as dry use, with high soluble solids, pronounced aroma, and rich flavour. Alishah Kakas is another favourite in Hunza because of its exceptionally high soluble solids, fine quality and firm texture making it suitable for shipping fresh and excellent for drying.
In Ghizer, another cultivar – Dugli – is the best because it has two edible kernels inside it, besides being of larger size. Most apricot cultivars blossom in early March. The blossoming time is about a fortnight and may be prolonged or shortened by the presence or absence of cold spell. Considerable variation is also shown by different cultivars in their blossoming habits. The incidence of frost during March is common and considerable damage to apricot crop is annually experienced.
The share of GB in apricot production is 114,286 tons. The GB’s contribution to the country’s economy can be enhanced, besides improving the fate of farmers and investors, in future by creating easy access to Russia through the CPEC as the country is the world’s largest importer of dry apricot.