CHITRAL: The people of Mastuj town have been provided with solar-powered dehydration plants for preserving fresh fruits, enabling the poverty-stricken farmers to increase their incomes.
Talking to media persons, chairman of Qarambar and Shandur Area Development Organisation (QASADO), Syed Saadat Jan said for want of dehydration facility, technical guidance, packaging and marketing, more than 60 per cent of fresh fruit of apricot, white mulberry, wild cherry, pear and apple got wasted as the surplus quantity was fed to animals.
He said the project was launched with the financial assistance of Small Grant and Ambassador’s Fund Programme of USAID under which 54 plants were provided in different localities and the women were imparted extensive training on different processes of fruit preservation ranging from harvesting to dehydration and packaging.
Mr Jan said Mastuj town was known for its fabulous apricot, white mulberry, pear and apple, adding QASADO helped in the products’ preservation and value addition. He said that the project also envisaged engagement of women in the process by hiring the services of food technologists and agriculturists.
He said the fruits dried in the customary way by exposing them to direct sunlight lost their pleasant charm, taste and brittleness due to which the commodity found no place in the market.
Nusrat Jabeen, who is getting training under the project, said she used to feed a large amount of apricots and apples grown in her orchards to her cows, but this year, she preserved 100 per cent of the produce with the help of the dehydration plant.
She said women from every household were imparted training on processing of fruits and operation of the plant, and on how to ensure hygiene during the whole process. “The fruit processing on modern lines will lead to financial empowerment of women,” she said.
Ms Jabeen pointed out a body with the name of Shandur Businesswomen Association Mastuj had been formed to represent the women involved in the field of dried fruits and handicrafts to enhance their entrepreneurial skills.
Nazim of Khoozh village council, Noor Ajam, said as per a survey conducted last year, only a fraction of households dried the fresh fruit and that there was no marketing facility available in the area to sell the fresh fruits.
He said connection of the farmers and growers with the local and national market was yet another outcome of the project.