A Welcome Change

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The establishment of a Fruit Mandi in south Kashmir’s Kulgam town is gradually changing the fortunes of the exploited farmers. But the changing economic landscape has inherent lacunas which need to be corrected, Suhail A Shah reports.

Having sold this year’s harvest, Zahid has been busy oiling the trees for the last three days to prepare his apple orchard for the expected snowfall.

Zahid says five years back devoting time to look after his orchard would not have been possible for him as he had to spend months in Delhi trying to sell his produce.

Things were not this easy earlier for the apple growers of south Kashmir’s Kulgam town. However, with the establishment of a ‘Fruit Mandi’ in the town, the last five years have been a rather comfortable ride for the fruit growers of Kulgam district and its peripheries.

“We no longer have to take the bumpy ride to big fruit markets in the plains and sell our apples on terms and conditions set by people alien to us,” said Muhammad Siddiq Lone, a fruit grower from Kulgam. The fruit growers say the satellite market established in Kulgam has given a new lease of life to the trade they have been involved in for generations now.

“I have been working in my orchard all my life and, believe me, the pressure of selling your fruit at good rates in a foreign land is a neck breaking task,” says 60-year-old Wali Muhammad, an apple grower from Pahloo village in Kulgam.
Muhammad says the Fruit Mandi in their vicinity has been a boon for small growers like him, “I have an annual harvest of some 150 to 200 odd boxes. It was never easy to sell them without actually getting exploited by the big wigs of the trade.”

Now that the market is just a stone’s throw away from their doorsteps, the apple growers of the area are breathing a sigh of relief. “We used to get not more than Rs 250 per box before the market was opened in 2007. Now the same box fetches us Rs 900 or even more,” says Farooq Ahmad Naikoo, another grower from the area.

The growers say the deals offered are still good enough for them, even though the traders’ commission from the total transaction is eight per cent. The traders in the market are mostly apple growers themselves. If the rates are good, it is in their interest too.

The remarkable thing is the Mandi is not confined to growers of Kulgam district only. It even receives growers from Islamabad district as well, “We cater to growers from Kokernag, Sallar, Koller and other apple producing areas of Islamabad district,” said Abdul Majeed Parray, vice president of the Traders Association.

Moreover, the locals say the Market is opening up new horizons of business in the area which were earlier unheard of, like the couple of lodging facilities that have come up over the last few years.

BRISK BUSINESS

At the time of harvest, a number of trucks are lined up inside Kulgam Fruit Mandi and thousands of apple boxes are ready to be loaded. Negotiations are going on and deals are being done. Urgent phone calls in Gujarati, Punjabi and Hindi can be heard from different corners of the market. Buyers from different parts of India can be seen negotiating rates with the traders in the market, “We have been receiving buyers from Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh,” said a trader.

At least 50 firms from different parts of India are now doing business with traders in Kulgam Mandi who are hopeful that they can rope in more firms in the coming years. “It’s important to rope in firms rather than individuals because of the credibility factor,” said Muhammad Iqbal Ganie, a trader from Kulgam.  According to local traders, the business has been good this year compared to the last few years. “The volume of trade has been growing each year since we first started working in this Mandi. Hopefully the trend will continue,” said Ganie.

The records of Planning and Marketing (P&M) wing of the Horticulture Department reveal that nearly 10,000 metric tonnes of apple were sold in the market last year. “This year, the volume of trade has increased considerably. Till now, —

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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