Kashmiri apple constitute 77 percent of total apple produce in India, there by contributing considerably to the state’s economy. As the major apple produce this year has ended on the rotten side, apple growers across the valley are a troubled class, Bilal Handoo reports.
Apple growers of Kashmir are presently a worried bunch. As the major apple produce has turned rotten this year, the impact has trickled at multiple levels. With no official help pouring in to make growers understand the use of organic apple market, massive overuse of fertilizers remains rampant in the valley. The chemical treatment in apple orchards is believed to have played the dampening factor in the overall produce.
More than 90,000 acres in the Kashmir Valley are used for apple cultivation with Rs 2500 crore plus turnover, Kashmir continues to be one of the lowest producers on per hectare yield scale. Fruit growers say conservative estimates put the financial losses at more than Rs 100 crore.
Woes in apple production started early this year when a hailstorm hit Southern Kashmir. It is said to have taken a heavy toll on the local fruit industry. “The losses are huge. Preliminary assessment has revealed losses to the apple blossoms ranging from 20 per cent to as high as 80 per cent in certain areas,” Farooq Ahmad Mirza, District Horticulture Officer, Shopian, says.
As 35 percent Kashmir’s apple is getting wasted due to lack of proper post harvest technology, researchers urged in September this year to put in place necessary technology and infrastructure to arrest this rot.
“When we can have a Cold Storage Milk Train running in parts of India to preserve and transport milk,” Dr N.K Krishna, DDG Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) New Delhi says, “why cannot there be cold storage trucks carrying apple to different Indian states.”
Prof. AA Sofi, Ex. Director, CITH, Srinagar, blames the transformation of paddy land into orchard as main reason for the rot and several other diseases in apple cultivars hitting prospects, healthy fruit farms.
Apple production is estimated at 21.42 lakh tonne in Jammu and Kashmir during 2012-13. The apple harvesting season is September-October. Apples have a long storage life compared to other fruits as it can be stored for four to eight months after harvesting. The fruits can be kept in cold storage at a temperature of about – 1.1 degree to 0 degree Celsius and 85-90 per cent of relative humidity.
Mir Khurram, who heads HN Agro in Lassipora, says that in the absence of storage facilities, the growers have no option but to sell the produce immediately, considering the perishable nature of the fruit. This also results in lower price realization. “Nearly 30 per cent of the produce gets wasted in this process,” he says.
This year, when major apple produce has turned rotten, some blame also goes to a lethal disease, which has hit the apple orchards causing huge financial losses to the growers and dealers in the valley.
Scientists said a disease alternaria has hit 10- 12% of the apple orchards in the valley. The disease chokes the food supply to the tree which ultimately leads to the premature leaf fall. Besides, soaring temperatures, high humidity level and intermittent rains in the last quarter of the season has created conducive atmosphere for the disease to sprout.
“The disease affects the colour development of the apples. The apples, which were supposed to be sold as A-grade quality in the market, now will not fall in that category. For instance if this category of apples were to be sold at Rs 500 per box, it will now fetch only half of it,” Manzoor Ahmad, a specialist in horticulture department, Kashmir, says.
“We have suffered huge losses,” Bashir Ahmad Bashir, president, New Kashmir Fruit Association, says. “Preliminary estimates show the loss worth Rs 100 crore.”
At the time when soaring onion prices are causing tears in consumers’ eyes, apples seem preferable. Apples that cost about Rs 80 to Rs 120 earlier this year slipped between Rs 40 and Rs 70 in the retail market, as their supply has increased dramatically, going by data from Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee.
This August the arrival of apples to the Fruit Markets jumped by about 19,000 tonnes compared to last year due to an increase in production in the supplying states of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. But the demand for imported Chinese apples is high. “Chinese apples are going for Rs 70 to 80 per kg,” says Bashir Ahmad, apple dealer from North Kashmir’s Sopore district.
While consumers are thrilled with the sudden fall in prices, apple growers in Kashmir are concerned. “See the normal rate would have been around 1200 per box, but now it is around 700,” says Abdul Hamid, a grower in the southern district.
Mir Muhammad Amin, President fruit growers and distributors of Shopian Mandi, says that the loss is running in crores. “On an average 10000 boxes of fruit were packed per working day to be sent to different Indian states. The loss incurred is around 1.15 crore per day,” he says.
Earlier this year, the survey on “Marketing System and Price Spread of Apple in Kashmir” revealed that a network of pre-harvest contractors (PHCs), commission agents (CAs) and wholesalers are the real beneficiary of the Valley’s apple produce, and not the farmers.
“Over-dependence and exploitation of these growers in the market stems from their over-dependence on funding from the commission agents,” the survey noted. “These commission agents have devised ways of scuttling the approach of small growers to the banks.”
Experts warns the threat to Kashmiri apple needs to be understood in this way that a fruit grower has to put in all efforts from using high quality fertilizers, fungicides, grafting, manuring and pruning his orchard.
Out of a total 2.83 lakh apple growers in the state, bank’s finance has been extended to about 17300 growers in two districts of Baramulla and Shopian. This financial exposure is included in the Bank’s over-all exposure of more than Rs 900 crore in the apple economy.
Earlier, farmers prefer moneylenders to banks because “traders provide a market as well as money, and are willing to finance for emergencies as well as for crop requirements.”
As the major crop this year has turned rotten, a threat of being insolvent looms large over apple growers in the valley.
Fruit economy only in Shopian is believed to sustain around 22000 households directly. This year’s restrictions have also cast shadow of uncertainty on the adjoining areas of the district.
Certainly too many apples a day isn’t good for growers. A bumper harvest in Jammu and Kashmir has pushed down prices this year causing further distress in the state.