With produce worth Rs 300 crore lost last season Kashmir’s horticulture sector is no longer a safe investment. Saima Bhat reports how spurious fish oils and inefficient system has put the entire sector in danger
In 2013, Mushtaq Ahmad Malik, 56, who owns 50 kanals of apple orchid in Shopian, approached the session court Shopian against agro industries and SKAUST. His trees suffered massive leaf shedding soon after spraying pesticides in the middle of season. But the impact didn’t confine to leaves only. Subsequently, apples on naked branches squeezed under the scorching heat and become diseased.
That year, he ended up having losing 80 percent of its harvest. But he wasn’t alone in South Kashmir’s Apple town who suffered the loss. Scores others had met the similar fate. Deeply disturbed, Malik along with other farmers went to district court against the Agro industries, Agriculture department and the enforcement wing for not checking the oils and other pesticides available in the market. They believe it was due to the “spurious” oils available in the market that marred their production.
As the year ended, the apple production had suffered Rs 300 crores loss. The massive loss made people to predict that the death of Kashmir’s apple industry is on the cards if the free run of ‘spurious’ tree oils won’t be halted.
=Used to prevent the hatching of insects and other diseases, the spraying oils have undergone a change: from tree oil to Horticulture Mineral Oil (HMO) to fish soap oil. These oils are being sprayed on the new buds before spring sets in. It is believed that these oils prevent 90 per cent of infestation of diseases, mostly scab and San Jose scale.
“We have lost our faith in companies like Arbofine, Mac, HP, and others,” says Malik, “They are major suppliers of HMOs in Kashmir.”
Of late, the government of India has made it mandatory for all oil tree supplying companies to have a proper registration from the Central Insecticides Board (CIB). CIB, whose main office is in Haryana, gives the registration to companies after trail use of their products for three continuous years with registration fees of Rs 85 lakhs.
Around 50 private companies don’t have proper registrations at present, including HP, BP, Indian oil and Total (company from France) which are catering 80 per cent Kashmir market.
Most of the farmers are using Fish Soap Oil for spraying at the moment which is recommended by SKUAST. It is a potassium based emulsifier containing diesel oil. “The institute has recommended Fish Soap Oil after conducting proper tests,” Dr MY Ghani, Associate Director Research SKUAST. “We test each such thing for three continuous years before recommending it.”
Peerzada Mushtaq, Director Agriculture who heads the enforcement wing, says HMOs and other Oils are misbranded but not spurious. He says till 2013, Kashmiri farmers were using 80 lakh liters of HMOs and rest of 20 lakh liters of fish oil were used. “But in 2014, 80 percent fish oil will be used and rest of the 20 percent will use HMOs,” he says.
Akhtar Hussain, Deputy Director Horticulture, says that his department doesn’t have anything to do with the companies who sell these oils. “Look, there is misconception in the market that HMOs has been banned,” he says, “but they have been just asked to get their proper registrations done.”
Horticulture industry is the backbone of Kashmiri’s economy, which includes Rs 4000 crore Apple Industry and Rs 500 crore dry fruit industry. Many say the bulk supply of spurious chemicals are receiving the political backing. These fish soap oil are being imported from Maharashtra and Kerala. “Kashmir requires this oil in a short span of time of 20 days, which means 1500 truck loads (1.5 crore liters),” reveals sources in agricultural department. “Indian markets cannot produce the fish oil to the extent Kashmir needs, even if, Indian crushes it fishes directly for making this soap oil. There is already scarcity of fish soap oil in market and it makes a market for duplicate fish soap in Kashmir.”
Such ‘spurious’ spray oils are being pushed into the local markets under the garb of High Court order, which has allowed the sale of tree spray oil till they get registration from Central Insecticides Board under Schedule 3 (e) of Insecticide Act, 1968.
Fertilizers like Nanozime, Fil zyme, Energy, Apple gold, Ajooba etc available in the markets are completely substandard in nature and all such fertilizers as per their knowledge are like packs of “fried soil” which do not contain even 0% nutrients and like fish oil cannot be tested in local laboratories.
As per census 2001, there were 9.49 lakh cultivators in Jammu and Kashmir for whom the farming was the main occupation but the number has been drastically declined to 5.66 lakh in census 2011. In a decade, the state lost 15% cultivators. Many say, the oils have indeed set the mobilization around!