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Fruit Crops of the Jabal Akhdar ( the Green mountain)*

JABAL-AL-AKHDHAR is a mixed bag of surprises where natural vegetation is concerned. Plant cover is very sparse. Yet amid the hash magnificence of these mountains grow a diverse range of fruit trees and a melange of shrubs and plants that are part of a unique natural heritage unseen anywhere else on the Arabian peninsula. The list gets even longer with time, as new types of Mediterranean fruit are sought to be added to this exotic mix, thanks to the splendid temperate weather of the jabals during summer.

The pomegranate is doubtless the most lucrative of the jabal's fruit crops, fetching the major chunk of a farmer's income through agriculture. Just as prized though is the walnut, which is ranked only next to the pomegranate as a much-valued cash crop. Walnuts are unique to Jabal-al-Akhdhar, one of many unique aspects of the Sultanate's natural heritage. There are scores of walnut trees scattered around the jabal, mainly growing in the vicinity of mountain springs or wadis. Most are concentrated however in three villages-Saiq, Al Menakhar and Wadi bani Habib.

JABAL-AL-AKHDHAR is something of a wonderland to the naturalist, not least for its diverse range of Mediterranean fruits. Many plants and shrubs that grow in the rugged wilderness of these mountains also sustain a thriving cottage industry in herbal remedies and traditional cosmetics.

Like most other fruit crops cultivated in the jabal, walnuts are harvested around September. They are dried and stored, to be sold mainly during the habat or traditional pre-Eid markets. Demand for Omani walnuts is especially good during the habta, drawing scores of sellers to these markets as far afield as Sarur, Bidbid, Samayil and Fanja. Many make a tow-day trek on foot to these markets, carting along sackloads of walnuts for sale. In small quantities they are also sold in souqs in Nizwa, Bahla, Rostaq and elsewhere. At RO 1 per 25 whole walnuts,returns are especially attractive.

In times past, the inedible, fleshly part around the walnut was used as a traditional cure for scars and open wounds, local villagers recall. An extract obtained from the fruit was used as a kind of alcohol-free tincture for application to skin injuries. The summer fruit harvest also includes black grapes-a sweet, jabali variety which grow in bunches in small vineyards alongside pomegranates. The grape crop preceded pomegranate cultivation in Jabal-al-Akhdhar, says Hamed bin Ahmed al Mayahi, a farmer of Ayn village. Harvest is around September along with pomegranates.

Many orchards also feature pear trees-a relatively new entry in the jabal's list of locally grown Mediterranean fruits. Deliciously succulent and sweet, pears grow to almost twice the size of normal imported varieties. Local pears are juicier as well, because they are picked when naturally ripe, unlike imported ones which are harvested prematurely to allow time for despatch to consumer markets.

Like most other fruit crops cultivated in the jabal, walnuts are harvested around September. They are dried and stored, to be sold mainly during the habat or traditional pre-Eid markets. Demand for Omani walnuts is especially good during the habta, drawing scores of sellers to these markets as far afield as Sarur, Bidbid, Samayil and Fanja. Many make a tow-day trek on foot to these markets, carting along sackloads of walnuts for sale. In small quantities they are also sold in souqs in Nizwa, Bahla, Rostaq and elsewhere. At RO 1 per 25 whole walnuts,returns are especially attractive.

In times past, the inedible, fleshly part around the walnut was used as a traditional cure for scars and open wounds, local villagers recall. An extract obtained from the fruit was used as a kind of alcohol-free tincture for application to skin injuries. The summer fruit harvest also includes black grapes-a sweet, jabali variety which grow in bunches in small vineyards alongside pomegranates. The grape crop preceded pomegranate cultivation in Jabal-al-Akhdhar, says Hamed bin Ahmed al Mayahi, a farmer of Ayn village. Harvest is around September along with pomegranates.

Many orchards also feature pear trees-a relatively new entry in the jabal's list of locally grown Mediterranean fruits. Deliciously succulent and sweet, pears grow to almost twice the size of normal imported varieties. Local pears are juicier as well, because they are picked when naturally ripe, unlike imported ones which are harvested prematurely to allow time for despatch to consumer markets.

To sample the full measure of Jabal-al-Akhdhar's bounty, a visit to the local farm of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is a must. On a seven-acre farm in Saiq village grows perhaps the most diverse range of fruit trees: hybrid pomegranate varieties, apricots, plums, peaches, several varieties of pear, fig saplings imported from Jordan, wild olives, and even almonds. Also growing here are apple trees being cultivated on an experimental basis.
Elsewhere, in farms and orchards around the jabal, farmers grow garlic, lemons, turmeric corn, wheat and some varieties of beans, further enriching the diversity of cultivation here. Also growing in the wild are the famous boot trees of Jabal-al-Akhdhar, again a unique element of the Sultanate's natural heritage. These thorny trees, which produce sweet red berries coveted in villages and towns of the Interior region, grow on the precipitous slopes of the jabal, making berry-picking a particularly hazardous task.

During the harvest season spanning the July-September months, nimble-footed villagers scour remote mountain ridges for the boot tree. As these mountain berries continue to be in great demand, the takings are usually very good, says Saroor bin Salem al Saqry of Saiq village. The wild fruit is sold in souqs in Nizwa, Bahla, Rostaq, Samayil and seeb. Thanks to plentiful rains during the year, the yield was even better this year, say local villagers.

Aside from its rich heritage of fruits and nuts, Jabal-al-Akhdhar also boasts a veritable hoard of shrubs and plants highly valued for their medicinal, therapeutic and cosmetic properties. Traditional communities around the Sultanate still prefer herbal remedies and cosmetics produced in the jabal, over modern-day substitutes. The Local communities Development Centre has been actively involved in preserving and promoting this element of Jabal-al-Akhdhar's traditional crafts, helping them improve yield, boost quality and find markets for their products.Rose water production is a thriving cottage industry in the jabal, given its wide application in halwa-making, Omani tea and assorted cosmetics and sweets.

The fragrant essence of the yes, a common mountain shrub, is also earning good incomes for those engaged in the craft, says Hasin bin Zahran al Amri, who runs the branch office of the Local Communities Development Centre. Tradition-minded womenfolk still opt for yas extracts as a cosmetic in place of modern cosmetics. Mountain plants like the Al Jadah, Al Qadhaf and Al Hanqalan are an important source for traditional herbal remedies which are prized in many Omani homes.

An oil extract of the Al Jadah plant, which grows in the wild, is recommended in the treatment of stomach ailments and for diabetic use as well. The essence of the Al Qadhaf plant, a native of the jabal, is used as a balm for those afflicted with a paralytic stroke, and for a variety of body-aches as well. Also the wild Al Hanqalan plant finds wide application in the treatment of sore eyes.

Aside from its rich heritage of fruits and nuts, Jabal al-Akhdhar also boasts a veritable hoard of shrubs and plants highly valued for their medicinal, therapeutic and cosmetic properties. Traditional communities around the Sultanate still prefer herbal remedies and cosmetics produced in the jabal over modern-day substitutes.

Honeybee breeding is another interesting pursuit that is supported by the unique climate and geographic characteristics of the jabal. An experimental breeding facility set up in 1988 at the local Agriculture Development Centre has since burgeoned into a full-fledged outfit that now meets much o the Interior region's demand for honeybees.The jabal's plateaus, says Mohammed bin Abdullah al Toobi, who runs the facility, offer ideal conditions for the young larva of bees to breed. Furthermore, because of the remoteness of the jabal, the pedigree of Omani honeybees can be maintained, Al Toobi notes.

The facility now boasts some 105 breeding hives, each containing five honeycombs. Bees are given free of charge to Omani bee-keepers operating in the jabal or in the Interior region and its neighboring wilayates.Jabal-al-Akhdhar's remoteness has not however dissuaded the authorities from undertaking various developmental programmes aimed at alleviating conditions for residents of the jabal's 58 villages. Despite the extreme ruggedness of the terrain here, the first 31 kilometres of paved road are being laid in parts of the jabal linking several villages.

According to the Deputy Wali of Jabal-al-Akhdhar, Fahd bin Sultan al Yaqoubi, a consultancy agreement has been signed for the black-topping of the perilous 36-km stretch linking Birkat-al-Mauz with Saiq. The road link, traversing treacherous ridges and ravines, is in fact an engineering challenge of sorts.Eight of the jabal's largest villages have now been supplied with power, under an electrification drive that began last year. Rudimentary telephone services are also in place. Sewerage facilities and a piped water network are being added in villages like Saiq.

A 24-bed hospital was opened last December near Saiq, while work on a private-sector hotel is under way. Future projects, according to the Deputy Wali, will include street-lighting, a civil court,and the expansion of power and telecommunications facilities.

© Adapted from Oman Observer. Nizwa.NET is not responsible for accuracy or errors.



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