Apples, kiwis from Iran, Turkey have Himachal’s fruit growers worried
Grappling with labour shortage and transportation challenges in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, fruit growers of Himachal Pradesh have now urged the central government to take steps to check the sale of apples and kiwi fruit from Iran and Turkey that are finding their way into fruit markets across the country.
This year has been tough for apple growers. Himachal’s Rs 4,500-crore apple economy sustains the livelihood of 1.65 lakh families. Of the 12 districts, apple is grown in seven with Shimla, Kullu and Kinnaur being top apple-producing districts. The primary concern of fruit growers was the labour shortage with skilled Nepalese labourers unable to return in time due to the sealed borders. The apple orchardists managed with local labour and worked overtime as harvest got off to a slow start in mid-July.
Since the crop was lean, the growers got a good price for premium apples being sold for Rs 1,400 to Rs 2,500 per box of 20 kg. But the growers now fear that unregulated and uncontrolled imports from Iran and Turkey could have an impact on the apple prices.
“Uncontrolled and unregulated cheap imports of kiwis and apples from these countries is affecting our realisation from the market,” said Lokinder Singh Bisht, the president of the Progressive Growers Association. Bisht has written to Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal to draw his attention towards the issue.
“Most of the imports with sanctions are routed through hawala transactions, undervaluing the fruit to ride over the 33% tax barrier of import duty. Besides the quarantine inspections are overlooked and the fruit is being dumped in third grade plastic, becoming an environmental hazard,” he said in the letter.
“If this goes on unchecked, it will not only lead to insects being imported with the fruit but will also make the cash crop unviable in our region,” he said.
The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority data shows that Turkey dumped 7,500 metric tonnes of apples in 2017-18 which grew to 32,289 metric tonnes in 2019-20. While the apple import from Iran was 7,020 MT in 2018-19, it grew to 21,521 MT in 2019-20.
Three years ago, the Centre allowed the import of kiwis and since then the volume has grown to 30,000 metric tonnes in 2019-20.
“Fruit imports should complement our consumption and not replace our domestic crop. There are more apples from Iran this time. The only way to differentiate the apple from Iran is from its packing,” says Abhinav Jaggi, a Delhi-based apple importer.
Apples from Iran change the port of origin in Dubai. There are reports that the apples are also smuggled from Afghanistan and later sold under different trademarks.