With Rs 2500 crore plus turnover, the Apple cart is the main mover and shaker of Kashmir’s countryside economy. Marketing the produce was a hectic, expensive and laborious exercise that changed after certain taxes were waved off and local mandis were established. KASHMIR LIFE visits major mandis in Sopore, Kulgam and Shopian to understand how systemic intervention, albeit lethargic, triggered a welcome change.
Kashmir has had apple for most of its distant history. But how to use this fruit to change the socio-economic profile of the place is a very recent phenomenon that took almost four decades after the revolutionary land to tiller process was over. Now the situation has totally changed. With Kashmir solely relying on parts of UP, Jammu, Punjab and Haryana for rice, its staple food, most of the plains and hillsides of the Vale are converted into sprawling orchards. It is good cash in hand that feeds farming families and adds to the overall growth.
Right now, Kashmir is India’s main apple basket. Despite being a second player, Himachal is making best of it because of its proximity to the market and the investor lacking any excuse to be part of the overall development process. Apple in Himachal is so major an economy that in the just concluded assembly election, in upper areas, this fruit was at the centre of campaigning. One section was against the installation of anti-hail guns that are used – as is in vogue in Europe, to manage the hail by firing chemicals into atmosphere and prevent crop destruction. Another section was against the idea of seeking a policy that would enable the state to fund hail-nets to cover apple orchards in Himachal. Given the history and the complications of contemporary politics, Kashmir may never be able to kick up economic issue and make it heart of politics.
Nearly 150,000 hectares making almost 55% of the horticulture land in Kashmir is under apple cultivation. Though the production is directly linked to the weather conditions, the yield is between 1,400,000 metric tons to 1,800,000 metric tons per year. More than one third of the overall production is the culled fruit that should feed a huge processing sector. Kashmir continues to be one of the lowest producers on per hectare yield scale.
The market remains the same. However, systems and processes have changed. Earlier, it used to be transported to Azadpur in Delhi market and the rush – forced by unreliable road connectivity, would lead to glut and fall in the prices. Now, a number of cold atmosphere storage (CAS) units have been set up by the new breed of local investors that helps regulate dispatches. The creation of a chain of mandis has reduced the efforts of the farmer. Now the buyers are coming to Kashmir and making direct purchases. Toll tax has been down away with. The interventions at the banking level created a situation in which the credit is a no frills access and the farmer is least dependent on the middle man who was exploitative moneylender. All these interventions have led to a change.
Grey areas, however, are stark. Processing in public sector is stagnant as the policy is even threatening the private processing activity that had barely taken off. Official agencies are still struggling to manage the transportation at fair costs, even failing to copy what neighboring Himachal has done. There is no move to help growers understand the fast emerging organic apple market as massive overuse of fertilizers continues to be the bedrock of official policy. And finally, the policymaking set up lacks capacity to process the information on how other apple producing areas are planning their near future given the shifts in market and changes in the consumer taste.
To gauge the quantum of change, magnitude of deficit and possibility of interventions, Kashmir Life’s three correspondents visited three mandis and spent enough of time watching trading and exchanging ideas with all the stakeholders. Following are the three reports on what they discovered!