Apples grown in the lush green valleys of the hill state for years have been struggling to make its mark in both domestic and international markets.
The Himachal Pradesh government is now mulling various strategies to promote “Himachal” apple brands and fruit certification is one of them.
This is for the first time that the government has planned to brand the apples grown in the state. The state horticulture department has come up with a novel idea to certify apple on different parameters. The apples will now be certified in accordance with its nutritive values, freshness and quality.
“There is need to re-invent the fruit industry in the state,” said principal secretary, horticulture, Tarun Shridhar.
The state government has drawn a proposal to engage consultants from outside the state to set standards for certification of apples.
“Initially, we can engage consultants. Later, the work can be carried out by the Horticultural Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation (HPMC),” said Shridhar. HPMC is heavily in the red due to mismanagement. The losses of HPMC have exceeded Rs. 50 crore.
Fruit growers are slightly apprehensive about apple certification. Balbir Bhalaik, an apple grower from Kachinghati, Shimla, said, “Branding of Himachal apple is a good idea, provided its parameter should be clear to the growers' first.”
“The government's plan to brand Himachal apple is an innovative idea, but growers should be detailed about it first so that quality apple can be produced,” Bhalaik added.
Tara Chand Sirkeck, a progressive grower of Kotgarh, Shimla, said branding of Himachal apple was an innovative step of the government, but growers had been already sending their produce in a Himachal-marked box.
“Branding our produce is a good idea, but it is not clear yet that what would be the parameters for it. Farmers have been already suffering due to mismanagements by the government,” said Sirkeck.
The agro-climatic conditions of Himachal Pradesh are extremely suitable for growing different varieties of fruits. Fruits of different types are grown on 2.07 lakh hectares in the state.
The state is successfully growing fruits such as apple, pear, peach plum, almond, walnut, citrus, mango and raisin grapes and the total production of fruits is 5 lakh metric tonnes.
Apple alone accounts for more than 40% of the total area under fruits and about 88% of total fruit production.
Commercially, apple is the most important of all fresh fruits grown. It has a rich collection of as many as 450 cultivars of apples collected from all over the world. The main varieties of commercial importance grown predominantly, however, are Royal Delicious, Rich-A-Red, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.
Himachal Pradesh currently accounts for over 4 lakh tonnes of apple production annually.
There has been tremendous progress in fruit growing during the past three decades. However, what have been the main worries of the fruit growers is the branding of apples. Himachal's high-quality apples is less preferred to apples being imported from the US, England, Chile, China, Iran and Isreal.
Grappling to compete with the imported apples, Himachal Pradesh has been demanding to increase the import duties.
Simultaneously, the state government has suggested the central government to ban apple import particularly during the harvesting season, which commences in July and culminates in September.
Improper techniques further add to the woes of fruit growers.
According to various surveys, fruit growers in Himachal suffer 35% crop loss from grading the fruit to taking them into markets. The government is now planning to set up more fruit processing industries in the state.