Ladakh's landscape is something one can never get enough of. It is undeniably unique and stunning. Aren't ravishing, rugged mountain passes, bike trips, turquoise jewellery and massive monasteries the first things you visualise when one mentions Ladakh? There is a lot more to this magical land than just that!
Did you know that Ladakh is also home to the world's sweetest apricots? Don't believe us? Try some! When we first bit into dried apricots from Sham Valley in Ladakh, we were certain that they had added sugar. The truth however, is that they are actually that sweet, naturally! Apricots have been grown in Ladakh for centuries. It is one of the most important cash crops in Ladakh and some villages derive almost all of their income from it. Typically, apricots grow in the wild. Over the past 30-40 years they have been grown domestically too. Traditionally apricots were used widely in the local barter system. For example, people from Sham Valley (lower Indus) would trade apricots for wheat, barley and woollen fabric with people in upper Indus.
In more recent times however, the communities have not been able to successfully market their apricots outside Ladakh. Primitive harvesting and drying methods lead to high wastage and a degradation in product quality. Then there are challenges that come with living in high-altitude, extreme weather conditions. Farmers are busy through the year and can access the markets only in the winters, when there is no farm activity. This makes them over-dependent on middlemen, and especially vulnerable when it comes to negotiating prices. A few farmers are able to bring their products to local markets but that’s not the case with everybody. Many of them have limited manpower to manage both household chores and outside trades.In 2016, Tata Trusts and Himmotthan Society decided to intervene and set up a community-based livelihood program. They identified 8 villages in Sham Valley, where apricots are grown in bulk, and set up an FPO (Farmer Producer Organisation) to provide training on improved technologies for sun-drying, reducing wastage etc.The FPO also functions as a collective for farmers to sell together in greater quantities, command better pricing and sell directly to urban consumers (like you!). The FPO has 200 farmers today, and hopes to reach many more in the years to come.
Takmachik, an eco village, is the epicenter of all the activity of this FPO. Tsering Angchuk, a farmer from Takmachik, explains why. “In Takmachik we use organic manures only. It has been a few years since we have been practicing organic farming and our products are getting better year by year.”
Another farmer from Takmachik, Tsering Nurbo believes the FPO has helped them tremendously and will create many more opportunities for the farmers in this region, in the years to come. “We formed an association called Sham Valley Apricots which has members from Khaltse and Biama villages. We started by electing our own board members, President and Secretary of the association. The idea was to enhance apricot production in Sham Valley and Tata Trusts helped us with this.
We were given apricot dryers, nut crackers and oil restractors by Tata Trusts. Farmers from all over Sham Valley bring their apricots to Takmachik where we process it and send it to Leh and other parts of the country,” he explains. “We charge Rs 200 membership fee and we are looking forward to helping more and more families in Sham Valley to produce enough good quality apricots and build our brand. We want people from regions other than Sham Valley to work on production of apricots so that there are more brands from Ladakh.”The first brand from this FPO is called Julley Ladakh, and it promises to bring you the very best, most premium quality of dried apricots from Ladakh. They are loaded with good nutrients, low on calories and quite literally the world's sweetest apricots!
To buy some of these delicious dried apricots, directly from the farmers who grow them, please click here!
About the Author: Suprita Mitter is a storyteller at heart and luckily one by the virtue of her work as well. She truly believes that we are who we are because of our stories and that's what people remember us for. Her favourite way to find stories that she wants to tell is discovering them accidentally on her travels - through people, folklore, food and art.