Rashid Paul

‘Too little too late’: MIS for Apple fails to enthuse growers in Kashmir

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Srinagar: There appears to be no takers for the market intervention scheme (MIS) announced past week by the government for apple growers in Kashmir – “it’s too little too late”.

The scheme has been rolled out at the fag end of the season, and it does not entail procurement of the scab-infested and pre-maturely fallen fruit, a bane that has extensively affected the 2020 crop.

The Union territory administration announced the MIS on 28th of October — a time when apple harvesting had almost concluded in the Valley.

The administration plans to procure 12 lakh MT apple from Kashmir through National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED), a cooperative marketing of agricultural produce for farmers in India.

The estimated apple production of Valley is 1851723 MT.

Continuing with the national scheme will usher in an increased growth of horticulture sector in J&K besides the apple-growers and traders will be safeguarded from distress sales, claims the administration.

The growers and traders across Kashmir, however, deflate the official claims as “an insincere talk”.

Bashir Ahmad Bashir, president Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers and Dealers Union said “the scheme has been launched too late. It also does not cover the scab-infected and fallen fruit, a misfortune exacerbated by official apathy amid COVID-19 pandemic this year.”

Although experts are unable to quantify the loss, but they insist that because of certain natural and man -made circumstances, the production of quality apple has experienced a dip.

“Growers in the Valley suffered enormous losses on account of scab and certain nutrient deficiency factors,” admitted M Y Zargar, scientist emeritus at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), Kashmir.

Growers maintain that the standard pesticides and fungicides were in short supply during March and April this year.

“The market was flooded with second-rate spraying material and the official machinery was invisible,” said Shakoor Ahmad, a fruit-grower from Shopian.

Apprehending an outbreak of scab and consequent losses, the farmers had in June communicated their concerns to the then chief administrator of the union territory and the union minister.

“We sought for MIS for disposal of the affected apple. But instead the government came out with a scheme for the exportable quality fruit and that too at prices far below the market rate,” said Bashir, the farmer lobbyist.

He said Rs 885 are offered by the government for a 15 kilogram box of A-grade Delicious variety. The same box is sold at Rs 1150 in the local satellite markets.

The problem with the growers seems not that of the marketing of their better quality produce, but the disposal of the scabbed and pre-fallen fruit, locally called the C-grade apple.

The MIS introduced by the then government of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed in 2002 had considerably reduced the farmer’s distress in Kashmir, recollects Mushtaq Ahmed Tantray, a fruit-grower from Sopore.

“During that period the government procured C-grade apple from us for value addition in processing units,” said Tantray.

“The succeeding schemes were only a fanfaronade. They hardly reduced the miseries of the Kashmiri apple-growers,” adds Tantray.

In 2019, a NAFED sponsored scheme was announced by the Government of India. It had claimed to purchase 6.36 MTS of apple from Kashmiri farmers. “But only one to two percent of the set target was achieved under the plan,” revealed a senior official in the Horticulture Planning and Marketing Department.

Pertinently, Kashmir is an agri-export zone. Its fruit production has reached 24.94 lakh MTs. This sector creates a generous market and jobs in the fertilizer, pesticide, agriculture machinery, processing industry and the trade all over India, say experts.

Encouraging this important sector is of great economic value for the country, said Zargar, the scientist emeritus at SKUAST.

Apart from substituting nutritional requirements of the national population, the 25 lakh MT fruit produced by Kashmir saves thousands of crores of rupees from being spent on its import, he said.

Its linkages and value chains support a network of industries and businesses across the country. Supporting this vital sector of the Kashmir economy will have a multiplier effect on the national economy, currently grappling with the worst-ever slide since Independence, say experts.

The sector needs a focused attention rather than “fanfaronades”, they say.

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