An Apple A Day

As fruit industry has seen a significant makeover over recent years. Javaid Naikoo reports on how the industry is staying close to home for success.

Nearly 1,50,000 hectares making almost 55% of the horticulture land in Kashmir is under Apple cultivation -- Photo: Bilal Bahadur.
Nearly 1,50,000 hectares making almost 55% of the horticulture land in Kashmir is under Apple cultivation — Photo: Bilal Bahadur.

For years, fruit growers of Shopian have been fed up with extra charges being levied by fruit commissioning agents—charges that included freight expenses and more. But now, the opening of a fruit and vegetable market in Shopian has freed the fruit growers of this area from what they see as exploitation in the hands of the fruit mundies outside of Jammu and Kashmir.

More than 60 percent of fruit growers of Shopian now sell their fruits in the fruit and vegetable market called Arhama Shopian. The market, which took off in 2006, recorded more than Rs 400 crores worth business in 2010.

“ After just five years, this market is running parallel with three major fruit and vegetable markets of Jammu, Parimpora, Srinagar and Sopore,” says peer Mohammad Amin, the president of Arhama Shopian.

Despite strong competition, the market is grabbing the attention of consumers and exporters across India.  It is also boosting the local fruit commissioning and forwarding agents. Fascinatingly, it is turning out to be a leading platform for sale and purchase of fruits in south Kashmir as well.

Babit Abraham, a fruit businessman from Kerala says, “I have been visiting this market from the past five years.  Every year, I buy more than one hundred trucks of apples and other fruits from this market.”

Babit is one of twenty-five buyers from Kerala who buy fruits exclusively from the Shopian market. Many of them also work on commission and on a joint venture basis with local fruit agencies of Shopian since 2006. This in turn has opened employment avenues for hundreds of people associated with the fruit business in Shopian.

The data collected from the District planning and marketing office Shopian shows the number of apple boxes exported from this market to the various states of India in just twenty days in the month of October.

The numbers collected are the lowest in a season, because this is the last stage of fruit season in the valley.

In the month of October, the data collected from the Assistant Marketing and Grading Office of Shopian shows that the fruit growers of Shopian were satisfied with the average rates for different varieties of fruits in this market.

Experts and growers alike believe that local marketing of fruits in the Shopian district has doubled the prices of fruits mainly because of two reasons. Firstly, buyers from different Indian states now come to buy fruits in Shopian. These buyers directly buy fruits from the growers and pay cash to the grower without any cost of extra charges and third party involvement. Secondly, accessibility to the market information and an improvement in grading of fruits has added to the price hike.

“Now our fruit growers first prefer this mandi for selling their fruits because there are no hectic schedules and because the money is delivered on time,” says Mukhtar Ahmad, a zonal horticulture officer. “Local marketing of fruits in Shopian is also saving more than 4 percent commission per apple box,” he adds.

Year 2011 recorded reduced fruit production in most areas of Shopian because of incessant rains and cool temperature during the time of flowering of fruits, according to the government accounts of early crop failure.

However, the chief Horticulture officer of Shopian, Mohd Shafi Kar claims that the highest prices of fruits in the local market and in the markets outside of the state this year will make up for almost 80 percent loss of that early crop failure for the people of  Shopian.Moreover, the steady growth of the fruit industry has given birth to a number of developmental projects in Shopian over the years. More than two hundred stores were constructed within just one kilometer surrounding the fruit and vegetable market of Shopian.

The commercial complexes construction comprise of offices of fruit commissioning agents, dhabas, offices of transport companies, auto service stations and auto engineering works units.

The market surrounding the fruit mandi is considered as big as some of the historical markets that people of Shopian had seen in the past. It is also a hub of employment opportunities for people in the area.

“It is only in this market that five transport companies are functioning now, which provide transport facilities to fruit growers according to their will,” says Zameer Ahmad, a partner in the Friends Transport Company in Arhama Shopian. “ More importantly, this provides employment opportunities to hundreds of locals,” he adds.

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