A Kashmiri Farmer’s Lament
By: Zahoor Ahmad Mir
You must be hearing that the apple business in Kashmir is in bad shape these days and numerous versions of this story have appeared on various media platforms, including newspapers, television, and social networking sites. Unfortunately, that is the reality of Kashmir growers these days.
Starting around the first of August for high-density types and continuing through the end of the harvest season for conventional kinds in the month of November, Kashmir is home to a thriving apple industry. September is the busiest month of the year for farmers. Once upon a time, this was the month when one could realise their goals and see the fruits of their labour. Growers used to look forward to harvest all year long because of the good fortune and financial security it brought. Most residents in south Kashmir, and even those in north Kashmir, rely only on apple cultivation as their source of income. The yearly fruit sales of this industry volumes Rs 11,000 crores, which is enormous. This time of the year is pivotal for the entire local population since it sets the tone for the upcoming year.
Even though a lot of money was poured into the industry (in the form of fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides, apple boxes, machinery, manpower, and arduous hard work), the market collapsed, crushing the hopes and dreams of the people. Most people have used high-interest loans and grants to cover these costs. A farmer has a lot of debt.
Numerous factors, according to analysts, are causing apple prices to drop. Apples from all over the world, including Afghanistan, Iran, and the United States, besides Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh, are flooding India’s fruit mandis and cold stores as the harvest season reaches its zenith. The mandis and cold stores are running in abundance; therefore, price drops are to be expected. These days, the majority of apples sold in the country’s mandis are inexpensive because they come from industrial orchards.
In most cases, governments impose an import charge to safeguard domestic farmers. That is happening today. At present, food basket inflation is so high that policymakers are having trouble bringing about price stability. Kashmir apples have become a commodity of third or fourth option for Mandi dealers due to competition from various varieties of imported apples priced far lower than those grown in Kashmir. Kashmiri farmers are in shock, anger, and despair.
In addition to these factors, Kashmiri apples have more misfortunes to face. Exporting apples from Kashmir is difficult because the region is connected to the rest of the country by only two functional national highways. However, Mughal Road is not preferred because of its distance and dilapidated conditions. So technically, only one highway connects us, that is Jammu-Srinagar National Highway (also known as NH-44). This year’s highway administration has become a farce. Streamlined traffic feels like a pipe dream despite many efforts. It gets difficult for apple laden trucks to come off the cluttered highway, and get to mandi. It has become a time-consuming ordeal that can take several days to pass and reach destinations. The government’s poor planning has caused chaos. Recent government action of attaching SSP traffic did not solve the underlying problem. The trucks have increased their rates by a factor of two or three. Whereas a station’s fare per box would have cost 50 rupees in the past, it now costs anywhere from 120 to 150 rupees and beyond. In these cases, who do you believe is losing money?
During these two months, the government in J&K UT could have simply stifled a strategy to keep the roadway running smoothly. They didn’t, though. I was calling my folks and family back home to check in on recent rates and harvests. All I need to know is contained in their utter hopelessness and shock. We are desperate for a saviour who can get us out of this catastrophe.
I am from a farming family that survives solely on the fruit and walnuts we produce. Please know that our annual plans, like those of any other farming family, revolve around the harvest. The amount of harvest is directly proportional to one’s annual ambitions, both little and grand.
Thanks to the abundant harvest this year, we were feeling optimistic and had begun making preparations for the future. But who could have predicted that our high hopes would lead us straight into debt? Neither the hopes nor the strategies are holding up as well as they once did. Worry and melancholy are the inevitable outcomes. Someone once said, “Hard work pays off,” but farmers, despite their best efforts, sometimes end up with nothing after harvest. Everybody will make money off of the same apple crop at every stage, but only the farmers will feel the pinch. The logistics company will make money, mandis will continue to profit from the labour and other services they provide, the exporter will make a profit, the store will get their cut, and only the farmer will be left with nothing. Given the situation, who do you think would be able to console the farmer? Some Kashmiris, upset by what they regard as stepmotherly treatment, have proposed eating apples at home, although this is unrealistic, both in terms of availability of fruit and the size of the population. It’s completely out of our hands; we can’t do anything about it. If the current situation in Kashmir continues, no one there will plant any crops in future. In order to prevent farmers and farming from completely disappearing, the government and the people of India must take notice of these dire circumstances.