Akeel Rashid

Use of colours, ripening agents on apple continues unchecked in Kashmir

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Srinagar, July 03: Like other famed Valley products, different varieties of Kashmiri apple too are falling victim to trade malpractices, with growers and traders using artificial colours and ripening agents to market the early-season yield.

The early season varieties include Hazratbali,  Candition, Red Delicious and Shimla. But besides these, even the late ripening variety  -- ‘American’ – too has come under the influence of this fruit adulterating menace from past few years.

The harvesting for early-season varieties of Kashmiri apples begins by mid-July and lasts up to late August.

According to horticultural experts, ethylene, the major ripening agent produced naturally within the fruits, initiates the process of ripening. However, there are various artificial ripening agents readily available in the market which stimulates the ethylene release in fruit thereby speeding up their ripening process.

“Ripening is a natural process in which fruit goes through various chemical changes and gradually becomes sweet, colored, soft and palatable. The pesticide market is rife with various artificial methods of fruit ripening chemicals like ethanol, methanol, ethylene glycol, ethephon, calcium carbide that are used to ripen different kinds of fruits and vegetables,” said Farhat Ali, a horticulture researcher.

“The fruits that are sprayed with artificial coloring agents have a sweet taste but on the other hand, such fruits have a short shelf life. Notwithstanding various health-related issues, artificial fruit ripening has become a standard practice in Kashmir,” he added.

“A long time before the early yield varieties of apples had a very long shelf life, but in recent years it has declined considerably due to spraying of ripening agents,” said Haji Mohammad Maqbool, a fruit-grower from Kupwara.

However, some growers while justifying the use of ripening chemicals said that the early-yield varieties of apple have somehow become used to these ripening agents.

“If the apple trees of early-yield varieties are not sprayed with these artificial ripening agents, than we are supposed to pick the apples one by one from the trees as natural ripening process does not take place all at the same time and the apples are either eaten by the birds or fall down from the trees,” said Nisar Ahmad Sofi,  a grower from Sopore.

“In order to save our yield we are left with no other option but to spray the fruits with ripening agents which makes the ripening process steady,” he added.

Some fruit growers in north Kashmir who stand against the malpractice expressed their dismay over the failure of the horticultural authorities to arrest the growing menace of spraying synthetic ripening agents on different varieties of Kashmiri apples.

Manzoor Ahmad, a fruit grower from Saripara village of Rafiabad told ‘Kashmir Images’ that spraying synthetic ripening agents to different varieties of apples is bringing bad name to apples industry as it deteriorates the quality and taste of this fruit.

“The concerned authorities have been running away from their responsibilities to check the menace of fruit adulteration which has brought the apple industry on the verge of devastation,” said Manzoor Ahmad.

Another grower Zahoor Ahmad from Panjipora village of Sopore said that spraying of synthetic ripening agents is not a novel one, it has been going on for a long time.

“The malpractice has increased manifold from last few years which has not only affected the quality of the fruits but also struck the growth and welfare of these fruit bearing plants itself,” said Zahoor Ahmad.

“Horticultural experts should come up with other harmless alternatives which could substitute the role played by the otherwise harmful ripening agents,” he added.

According to the fruit growers, previously the distribution of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides used to take place through Horticulture department directly, but with the privatization, majority of these products come into the market unchecked.

“There is no vigil of authorities on the pesticide companies who come up with substandard synthetic color sprays which has made the apple plants vulnerable to numerous diseases besides having affected the bees and flies who are the main agents of pollination process in apple trees,” said Sheeraz Zamaan, a grower from Kulgam.

However plant experts have something different to say about what affects the pollination process in apple trees.

“Apple is generally referred to rosaceous genus pyruswhose in which pollination takes place with the help of bees and the decline in the yield of the fruit has to be attributed to the decline in the practice of apiculture which is just because of peoples’ apathy and not because of the ripening agents or other pesticides,” said Dr Zaffar Shadaab, senior professor of Botany at Government College Baramulla.

In the face of decline in yield and slump in the price of apples due to the massive use of the substandard pesticides, many fruit growers in Kashmir have gone belly-up in recent years.

“No efforts are being made by the government to curb the marketing of synthetic ripening agents which are freely available in the market. Unconcerned horticulture authorities are hardly seen in the field to assist the downtrodden growers who are being pushed into bankruptcy,’’ said Sajad Ahmad Lone, a grower in Pattan.

While the growers are divided over possible benefits and harms of the use of colours and ripening agents  on fruit,  and the government authorities appear to be looking other way,  doctors say that these artificial dyes make the otherwise vitamins and minerals-rich apple potentially dangerous for consumption.

“The varieties of apples which are being sprayed with synthetic colors have virtually become a poison whose consumption leads to various health problems like upper respiratory infections, stomach ulcers, diarrhea and even food poisoning, with children and elderly people being the most vulnerable,” said Dr Zainub Nabi, a junior resident at SMHS Hospital Srinagar.

“These artificially colored apples interfere with the food absorption which can lead to intestinal cancers, besides effecting the normal functioning of kidney and liver in the long run,” she added.

When contacted, Director Horticulture, Manzoor Ahmad Qadri said that government has put a complete ban on the use and sale of artificial colouring agents since 2017.

“Few days before it came to my notice that there has been use and selling of synthetic colours in the market. I have directed all the Chief Horticulture Officers to confiscate the stock," Qadri told ‘Kashmir Images’.

"I have also requested directorate law enforcement of Agriculture department to conduct regular inspections and seize these chemicals," he said adding that legal action will be taken against the violators.

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