In A First, Kashmir Will Consume Its Own Farm Fresh Apple, This Ramzan

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by Masood Hussain

SRINAGAR: It has never happened in Kashmir. The super A-category apple that Kashmir produces would rarely find its way to Kashmir market because it would go directly to the up-market chain at an asking price. It is juicy, crunchy and the global standard.

Now Coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. While the markets are closed across the world including India and the purchasing capacity has gone for a toss, part of the apple produce of the 2019 harvest is still in the controlled atmosphere storage (CAS) in Kashmir. Even if it is moved out, there is no means of taking it to the traditional upmarket chains in the plains and even if that happens nobody knows will it fetch the price.

Maajid A Wafai, President CAS Owners Association

Kashmir has slightly more than a 130 thousand metric ton capacity for preserving the key Kashmir crop for half a year in its chain of CAS network that mostly operates from Lassipora in Pulwama. Though only around 40,000 tons had already moved out and sold, still, an estimated 89000 metric tonnes is in Kashmir.

Kashmir produces more than 2.2 million tonnes of apple a year but retains only five per cent of it or even less for delayed early summer marketing. This infrastructure that came up in last decade is playing a key role in improving margins that Kashmir was losing to glut and panic-sale every fall.

Most of the produce belongs to the growers and not the store owners where it is stored. The CAS owners, however, have a percentage of the crop that they traditionally purchase during harvest to offset the costs of store running.

Now the Ramazan, the Muslim holy month, has come as a blessing. People during these four weeks consume a lot of fruit, mostly watermelons, dates and muskmelon. This year, however, it seemingly looks very difficult that the market will be able to manage the Iftaar fruit appetite in Kashmir.

The store-owners have joined hands with the apple owners that they will attempt marketing the produce locally during the month of Ramazan. While this will help them reduce the inventory and losses, it will give the market an alternative to the fruit that was imported from the plains.

Sanna Masood, CEO Farm2U

“We have not many stakes in the crop that is in our stores,” Sanna Masood, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Farm2U said. “But we have stakes in the sector and we do not want the growers to suffer any loss.” The company runs four major storage facilities in the south and north Kashmir.

“After taking the growers on board, we have tied up with the major departmental stores that are permitted by the authorities to deliver the goods at their doorsteps,” Ms Masood said. “We will be supplying them the fruit and they will be marketing it locally.”

Ms Masood said that the growers usually store the top category fruit they produce so that they sell it in the lien season when the market lacks supplies from other countries and other apple- producing places in India. “They invest in keeping it farm fresh and is usually expensive but we will market it as reasonable price,” Ms Masood said. “However, the freight that usually is required for transporting it to major chain outside Kashmir is saved so it will come cheap to the consumers in Srinagar.”

Earlier, Maajid A Wafai, the President of the Controlled Atmosphere Stores Association, Lassipora had urged the Government to address the problems being faced by the farmers in not being able to transport their produce to the various operational Mandi’s outside Kashmir.

“Although the Government had declared the farm produce as an essential supply, there has been little effort to provide an express corridor for taking the produce to the consumers,” Wafai had said, insisting that produce worth Rs 950 crore is in the stores, awaiting transportation. “Return of the migrant labour, unavailability of transport and increasing storage costs could result in crippling losses to the farmers.”

Kashmir consumes 1.35 million kilograms of watermelon worth Rs 2.70 Cr daily

Wafi told Kashmir Life that the still preserved fruit in the stores is around 7500 truckloads. “We are sure Kashmir will start consuming its own fruit but I am unsure if the entire quantity can be consumed,” Wafi said. “We are trying to market the same at no added cost and at very reasonable prices.” This, he said,m is crucial for the wellbeing of a huge Kashmir population that puts its sweat and blood into the crop.

Since the markets are supposed to remain formally closed till May 3, it is likely that the lockdown may get area and sector-specific extension; it is unlikely that the growers will get any facility for transportation and sale of the produce. In this situation, exploring the local market has emerged as the top priority for both the store owners and the growers.

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