Nature has bestowed us with a wide variety of plant resources and their products. Fruits and vegetables are very important food commodities not only in India but all over the world. The fruit and vegetable sector has grown substantially both in volume and in variety of outputs traded globally. Rising incomes, falling transportation costs, improved technologies and developing international agreements have all contributed to this level of growth. Fruits are good source of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and are major source of complex carbohydrates, antioxidants and anti-carcinogenic substances which are important to human health and well being (Arul, 1994; Al-Hindi et al., 2011). After harvesting, ripe fruits and vegetables are attacked by various microorganisms that are also capable of attacking them earlier in the course of growth in the field. These are largely weak pathogens, typical of the harvested and stored fruits and vegetables (Barkai-Golan, 2001).
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India is gifted with a wide variety of agro-climatic conditions and soils and enjoys a prominent position in the world horticulture. Under the changing agricultural scenario, it has been realized that the horticulture sector plays a vital role in providing livelihood security to the farmers globally. Area, production, productivity and export of horticultural produces mainly fruits are vital for increasing income and overall employment in the agricultural sector (Rather et al., 2013). Almost all tropical, sub-tropical and temperate fruits are being grown in the country. India is world’s second largest producer of fruits next to China. Total production of fruits in India has been reported to be 57.73 million tonnes with its projected value touching 98 million tonnes by the year 2020-2021 (Banarjee, 2009).
Kashmir has been defined as the “land of fruits”. Its environment and climate is favorable for the cultivation of large number of fruits and has provided greater facilities for the horticulture industries to develop rapidly. Varieties of fruits grown in Kashmir Valley are apples, pears, peaches, cherries, plums, strawberries, walnuts, almonds, etc. In Jammu and Kashmir horticulture is the most vibrant sector of state economy and provides direct or indirect employment to the state population. Nearly 75% of the temperate fruits of India are grown in this state. Apple and walnut are the major fruits produced in this state. 77% of the apples and 90% of walnut production in India belongs to Jammu and Kashmir and the state has been declared as “Agri. Export zone of apples and walnuts” (Rather et al., 2013). In Jammu and Kashmir the area under fruit cultivation is 2.37 lakh hectares with an annual production of 15.25 lakh metric tonnes (Anonymous, 2012). Pear and peach fruits are also grown on mass scale in Kashmir after apple and walnut.
Pear (Pyrus communis L.) belong to family Rosaceae, stands second in ranking after apple as the most important tree fruit grown all over the world. Pear is grown under temperate and subtropical conditions because of its wide climatic and soil adaptability. Pear can be grown in a wide range of climatic conditions as it can tolerate as low as -26°C temperature when dormant and as high as 45°C during growing period. Pear occupies third position in temperate fruits both in area and production and fourth among all the fruits in global distribution and can be grown from foot hills to high hills experiencing 500 to 1500 chilling hours (Rathore, 1991).
The pear is native to Asia and Europe and is related to apple family. Overall, world pear production reached 19.75 million metric tonnes in 2006 (Anonymous, 2006; FAO, 2006) ranking second, after apple among global production of deciduous fruit tree species. Among the main pear producing countries Italy is the leading country in both production and export of pear in view of the percentage of the total cultivated area of a country under pear cultivation. The other important pear exporting nations are Argentina, France, Australia, South Africa, Netherlands and USA (Layne and Quamme, 1975). In Pakistan, pear grows in temperate zones of Baluchistan, northern area of NWFP and Pakistan occupied Kashmir occupying 2,256 hectares and producing 28,341 metric tonnes of fresh fruits (Anonymous, 2007, Digest of Statistics, 2010). In India pear is primarily grown in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab, Western Utter Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. There has been found growing trend in terms of pear production since 2001 in India (FAO, 2012). In India total area under this crop is estimated to be only 38,600 hectares with a total production of 176,000 tonnes and a productivity of 4.6 t/ha (Ravindran et al., 2007). In Jammu and Kashmir, pear ranks second after apple with an annual production of 49.8 thousand metric tonnes during the year 2011-2012 (Rather et al., 2013).
Pear fruits are excellent source of carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and a good source of vitamin C (Blattny, 2003). In ripe pear fruits, sugars constitute about 70 percent of the total carbohydrate percentage. Fructose is the predominant sugar (6.5% to 11.2%) followed by glucose (0.5% to 3.5%) and sucrose (0.1% to 2.4%). Variability in taste and colour of different pear fruits is mostly due to changes in contents and ratios of sugar contents (Doyon et al., 1991). A protein content of 0.6 percent has been recorded in pear fruits. However, all the essential amino acids except tryptophan have been identified in pears (Hudina and Stampar, 2000). Many organic acids have been found in pear fruits that include malic acid, citric acid, quinic acid, α- ketoglutaric acid, succinic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, shikimic acid, glyceric acid and mucic acid (Doyon et al., 1991; Hudina and Stampar, 2000; Colaric et al., 2005). Pectin is also abundantly present in pear fruits. Different minerals, viz. calcium, phosphorus, sulphur, copper and chlorine are also found in fruit pulp (Ozturk et al., 2009).
Pear fruits are known to have pharmacological properties like anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, antiallergic, etc. due to little amount of salicylates, benzoates present in the fruit (Macheix et al., 1990) and also help in reducing body weight, arthritis, gout, chronic gallbladder disorders. Dietary fiber of pear and its phenolic compounds help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (Gorinstein et al., 1998, 2002). Pears can be useful in lowering high blood pressure and for controlling blood cholesterol levels. Moreover, it is preferred by diabetic persons due to its low sugar content (USDA, 2004).
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Peach (Prunus persica (L.) Batsch) belong to the family Rosaceae and is grown commercially all over the world in regions between 25o and 45o latitude above and below the equator. It is the third most important temperate fruit cultivated in India. Presently this crop is being cultivated in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Himachal Pradesh and to a lesser extent in hilly areas of Tamil Nadu. Globally, in 2003 the leading peach and nectarine producer was China, accounting for 38 percent of world’s production, followed by Israel with 10 percent and the United States with 9 percent world’s production. In 2003 the world’s largest peach and nectarine exporting countries were Spain, Italy, France and United Nations (FAO, 2006). The peach production in India exceeds 1.5 lakh tons per annum (FAO, 2006). Stone fruits as a group occupy an area of 0.11 million hectares, with 0.14 million tonnes production. In Himachal Pradesh about 28 thousand hectors are covered under peach, plum, apricot, almond and cherry. In the North-western Himalayan region, peach holds greater promise because of its utilization for canning purposes. Peach is grown mainly in low and mid hilly areas (1000-2000 m asl), except the low chilling cultivars belonging to the Florida group, which can be grown very well under sub-tropical conditions (Ghosh, 1999). In Jammu and Kashmir the annual production of peaches is 48.5 hundred metric tonnes (Anonymous, 2012).
Peach fruits are rich in potassium, phosphorous, zinc, calcium, selenium and potassium. They are also known to contain organic acids like citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, quinic acid, galautoric acid, chlorogenic acid, neo-chlorogenic acid, etc. (David et al., 1956; Colaric et al., 2004). They are known to help in maintaining water balance, counteracting the negative effect that sodium has in the retention of water (Lim, 2012). Peach fruits are known to contain vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and proteins (Gangwar et al., 2008). Vitamin C present in peaches is considered as powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent (Ghasemi et al., 2011). Fruit of peach contains high percentage of water, and is an excellent laxative. It is known to be helpful in eliminating toxins, usually included in the weight-loss programs. Cooked and purred peach fruits have been found extremely helpful in stomach ulcers, bowel inflammations and colitis. Peaches are known to stimulate digestion, regulates bowel and alkalinizes blood stream (Lim, 2012).
Several pathogens are known to reduce the nutritive and medicinal value of fruits thereby cause huge losses to the growers and farmers. Large number of pathogenic fungi and bacteria attack these fruits in storage as well as under field conditions and cause number of diseases especially fruit rot diseases (Wani and Shah, 1998; Snowdon, 1992). Fungi are the most prevalent pathogens which infects wide range of host plants and cause huge losses to most of the fresh fruits and vegetables during storage, sale and transportation (Pierson et al., 1971; Sommer, 1985; Snowdon, 1991; Barkai-Golan, 2001; Janisiewicz and Korsten, 2002). Fruits due to their low pH, higher moisture content and nutrient composition are very susceptible to attack by pathogenic fungi, which cause decaying or rotting of fruits and make them unfit for consumption by producing mycotoxins (Phillips, 1984; Moss, 2002). Postharvest losses to fruits in developing countries has been estimated to be in the range of 5-50 percent or more (Salunkhe and Desai, 1984; Dwivedi et al., 1984). In India, postharvest diseases of fruits due to fungi are responsible for about 30 percent losses during harvest and consumption (Parpia, 1976; Bashar et al., 2012). These diseases spread mostly by microscopic spores which are distributed in the air and the fruits become infected through injuries caused by careless handling, by insects or by some other agencies.
Fruit rot is common, destructive and wide spread disease of all fruits and vegetables. Rot is defined as “to become damaged, weakened, or useless because of decay” or “to undergo decomposition, especially organic decomposition” and according to Merriam Webster’s dictionary it is defined as “to undergo decomposition by the action of bacteria or fungi”. Rot is the most predominant disease caused to the fruits by the action of fungal pathogens mostly in storage (Janisiewicz and Korsten, 2002). Several species of fungi involved in rotting of fruits such as: Rhizopus sps. Mucor sps., Penicillium sps., Aspergillus sps. Colletotrichum sps., Botrytis sps., Monilinia sps., Alternaria sps. Sphaeropsis sps. Phytophthora sps., Geotrichum candidum, etc. (Byrde and Willetts, 1977; Spotts, 1990; Mari et al., 2003; Gadgile et al., 2010).
The Kashmir valley is also known for the production of high quality fruits of apple, pear, peach and plum and is known as fruit bowl of India. Like other crops these fruits in storage and on standing crops also suffer huge losses due to fungal pathogens which reduce their yield and degrade their quality as well resulting in great economic loss to the growers. Little work has been carried out towards the menace caused by fungal rot of fruits in Kashmir Valley. The present study was therefore carried out to study the fungal rot of pear and peaches grown in Kashmir Valley. The main aim of the present study entitled “Pathological studies on fungal rot of pear (Pyrus communis L.) and peach (Prunus persica (L.) Batsch) in Kashmir Valley” was to isolate, culture and identify the fungi causing decaying or rotting of two economically important fruits such as pear and peach in storage and on standing crops and to work out some management strategies for the control of post-harvest fungal rot diseases of pear and peach fruits.