Sunday, 24 October 2010, 01:35 GMT
Home-grown pomegranates satisfy local markets

A vendor at Suleimaniya fruit market unloads boxes of pomegranates. GLOBE PHOTO/Salam Abdulqadir

The Kurdish Globe
By Salam Abdulqadir--Suleimaniya

Kurdistan's rich soil is ample nutrition for healthy pomegranates

Despite the increase in imports of fruits and vegetables, one home-grown fruit still bests its rivals'the pomegranate.

The wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Suleimaniya city is selling a lot of Halabja-harvested and other locally grown pomegranates these days. "When home-grown pomegranates ripen, Syrian pomegranates lose out in the market," said Khalid Ahmed Muhammad, a seller in the wholesale market. Khalid, a farmer himself, said that Halabja pomegranates, sometimes known as Hama-Salakhani pomegranates, are famous for being tasty and having soft beads.

Halabja is located east of Suleimaniya province. Pomegranates grow well there because of its moderate climate and rich soil. Importing pomegranates from Syria to Suleimaniya slow during this season as Halabja and other areas like Hiran and Nazanin supply the market from September to December.

"We are selling three to four tons average every day. We buy from the farmers or from fruit traders. Our pomegranates all come from Halabja," said Sardar Hama-Salih Ahmed, a fruit wholesaler. "We then sell them to local grocers and to our Arab customers who come from different parts of Iraq."

Wholesaler Hashm Tariq said that he has been selling pomegranates in this season since the early 1990s: "We are selling around a hundred boxes every day, and each box contains 27 to 30 kilos. Pomegranate is largely home-grown fruit right now in this market."

Pomegranates are transported to the wholesale markets by truck. Unlike the farmers in Erbil who get paid by the government for the cost of transportation, farmers in Suleimaniya have to pay for everything themselves. "We pay 100,000 Iraqi dinars (US$90) for a single transport by pickup truck. A truck carries a ton and around 250 kilos of pomegranates," said 25-year-old farmer Saman Amin Ahmed. He has an orchard in a village called Jali in Hiran and Nazanin area with 4,000 pomegranate trees. Jali is around a three-hour drive from Suleimaniya. Ahmed said he has temporarily employed 12 workers with daily wages of 25,000 Iraqi dinars (US$20). They work from 7 to 4 p.m., harvesting pomegranates.

"I am charging 85,000 dinars for a single transport of fruit from Raniya to Suleimaniya and 10,000 for a meal. Thus, I am charging 95,000 dinars (US$85) in total," said Abdullah Rasheed, a truck driver. Raniya is about a two-hour drive from Suleimaniya.

Saman complained about government lack of attention to his orchard. He said that the government never acts to help them, and if it does it would be too late. "Trees are likely to catch diseases. We need to work now to prevent that from happening."

Due to a reasonable amount of rain in winter and spring, the quality and quantity of pomegranates are better than last year. "Our products are more than double compared to last year," Saman said. "Last year, we had fewer pomegranates to sell and with lower prices because of low quality," Sardar added.

Home-grown pomegranates are grouped as big, medium, and small, with different tastes ranging from very sweet to a mixture of sweet and sour to very sour. "Grocers in Suleimaniya city are interested in the big type. We sell more of medium and small types to grocers from other destinations, said Sardar. "But Arabs like Halabja pomegranates," Hashm remarked.

A pomegranate tree grows blossoms four times a year. In winter it gets blossoms, but because of cold weather they soon wither. The second time is in May; blossoms will become big-size pomegranates. The third time is in June, which is when they become medium-size pomegranates, and the last time is in August when--because of hot weather--they dry up quickly.

It is common belief that pomegranates become tasty after the first rain. Khalid explained that it is because the weather gets cooler, thus the skin of the fruit cracks helping to make them delicious. But even if there is no rain and the weather gets cool, cracks still occur, he noted. Summer is dry in Kurdistan, so when the first rain falls in autumn it is considered the start of the ripening of pomegranates.

Pomegranate trees need to be watered at least once a week, Khalid said. "My water supplier is a spring water source. Though it is autumn and it has not rained for months I still get enough water." Saman's orchard gets water from an irrigation canal. "If I get the canal concreted I can save more water," he noted. Lack of water for irrigation is a big problem in many parts of Kurdistan.

It takes two years for a pomegranate tree to grow enough to produce fruit, but once it does it lasts a long time. "Maybe four generations eat pomegranates of a single tree," Khalid said.

Currently, the price of a kilo of pomegranates at Suleimaniya wholesale fruit and vegetable market is around US$1. The price is not too high considering prices of other fruit, but Sardar admitted that the few imports of pomegranates from Syria presently have an effect on the fall of the price of home-grown pomegranates.