Kashmir Apple Industry at the cross-roads

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By: Shakir Nisar

The season of Apple harvesting in Kashmir starts with high density varieties almost from 01 August and lasts till conventional varieties are fully harvested in November. September month is termed as the busiest month for the growers. It used to be a month of dreams, aspirations, hope and the result of hard work. Throughout the year, the harvesting season is cherished and looked as source of prosperity and a financial promise and growers used to be excited for harvesting. The apple farming is the sole economic activity of almost 90% people in south Kashmir and some parts of North Kashmir too. It is this season which determines the yearly plans of the entire population of the areas.

But this year there is a complete lull and no excitement can be seen among the growers. The people are worried and in great dilemma in view of terribly low rates and dropping demand compared to what it was in yesteryears.

The market is down and it has crushed the hopes and aspirations of the people even when huge investment has gone into the sector in terms of spendings on fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides, apple boxes, machinery and man power besides laborious hard work. For these spendings most of the people have availed different types of loans and grants with heavy interest rates. In short,a grower is in full debt and owes a lot to different firms and corporate offices.

Over the years pesticides rates have increased by almost Rs 1,000 per kilo saving production from scab, mite, leaf infection and other diseases. The price of wooden boxes in which apples are packed has gone up to Rs 100 andlaborers to pluck apples have a new rate of Rs 800 per day. The basic cost of Kashmiri apple including transportation from the Valley is around Rs 500 to Rs 600 a box and if it sells in the market at Rs 500-600 a box, it will wreakhavoc on Kashmir’s horticulture economy. Farmers also fear that the opening prices offered by Adani Agri Fresh Limited will impact the fruit’s prices in the local markets. Adani Agri Fresh Limited is now the biggest corporate buyer of Apples in India.

High density apple varieties were sold at around Rs 110/kg last year. The same was sold at Rs 60/kg this year. The same is being sold in Indian supermarket at around Rs 250/kg. Other varieties fetch ever lesser amount to the farmers which have led them to frustrations.

The people are eagerly waiting for the market prices to go up so that they may get good returns for the produce. They are observing the marketing strategies very keenly and pray for the upward trend in the market prices. More than this, the people are eagerly waiting for the governments intervention and are expecting it’s support in normalizing the markets in their favour. It’s been known that apples are imported from Iran at lower rates which badly affect the indigenous crop and these Iranian apples are being imported first to Afghanistan and rebranded as Afghnistani apples. Since India and Afghanistan have a zero-import duty agreement, these apples are not taxed.

When these imported duty-free apples enter the market, they are sold at lower prices than the indigenous quality apples. The growers are not afraid of Iranian apple import and competition from it butthey are concernedabout the duty and custom free Iranian apple that is coming into the country and sold at a cheaper price. You cannot compete with a product that is being sold at a very cheap rate. Over the years Kashmiri apple is competing with American apple that is being imported in the country. Let Iranian apple come through all official systems, let it be not duty and custom free and then let it compete with Kashmir apple, growers say.

The growers are looking for the government to lend them a helping hand and bail them out from the grave situation. In this regard they are hopeful that the government will extend the policies of ‘Atmanirbar’ and ‘Make in India’ like initiatives to the horticulture sector of the Jammu and Kashmir. In such tough times, horticulturists and apple merchants crave for the intervention of the UT administration so that a policy that would prefer the promotion of indigenous apples is framed at the country level. They wish that the government of India comes forward with a robust strategy to combat the declining rates of Kashmiri apples. Moreover, the fact of the illegal import of Iranian apples via Afghanistan should be probed and discouraged if found true.

The author is a Vocational Trainer at Govt Boys High School Gariend Khurd Budgam and can be mailed at [email protected]

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