Apple farmers in Kashmir battle odds, govt claims exports higher this year
The unrest in Kashmir had hit the Valley’s apple farmers in multiple ways right from the initial harvesting stage to transportation even as officials say the export has been higher than in the corresponding period last year.
Apple farmers and traders that HT spoke to said the first difficulty arose when farmers in interior areas of the Valley could not attend to their crop due to the unrest.
“Because of the curfew and restrictions, farmers could not spray pesticide and take care of the crops in the proper manner. That led to shedding of leaves from the tree which can the fruit,” said president, Sopore Fruit Mandi, Mushtaq Ahmad Tantray.
The Sopore fruit mandi is the largest such in the state but the unrest has hampered its functioning considerably.
Secondly, unavailability of trucks during the unrest which jacked up freight costs ,also affected the apple business.
“The freight rate per apple box was around Rs 50-60 from Srinagar to Delhi. But today it is around Rs 90-110. Also, the packaging material to prepare the crates is not readily available. Thus, their cost has increased,” said Tantray, who is also an apple farmer.
He added: “Apples from the farms in the interior areas could not reach the respective fruit mandis on time because of the transportation problems. With night curfew in place, farmers could not transport the crop from their farms as they usually do. And that led to some damage to the harvested crop.”
Moreover as Bashir Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers’ Association pointed out that due to the restrictions placed on the traffic movement on Jawahar Tunnel, the quality of the apples in loaded trucks deteriorated further.
Ahmad said that according to an estimate carried out by the traders themselves, the fruit business incurred a loss of Rs 1,000 crore till August-end since the unrest started on July 8.
But traders are optimistic because in the period July-August only the “early” varieties of apple are traded but September-October is the peak season and features an extensive trade of the “premium” variety of apples.
However, what they point out is that the damages that the plants have suffered because of lack of attention in the initial stages can’t be corrected. But uninterrupted transport can assure proper delivery and sale of the fruit.
Even as traders complain of difficulties and losses, the government maintains that this year’s apple cultivation and export has been more than last year’s.
Mohmmad Hussain Malik, secretary in the government’s horticulture department said, “The apple crop this year has not been less than last year. And if you compare the data till September, the apple export from the Valley has been double this year in comparison to the corresponding period last year.”
He also highlighted that the local trade in Kashmir has suffered because most of the mandis have either remained closed or functioned for only two or three hours during the unrest.
Government records say that although there was a slump in the export in apples in August, September saw a huge rise in the number of trucks leaving the Valley loaded with the fruit.
QA Rashid, deputy director, department of horticulture planning and marketing, said, “In July, 1199 apple trucks had gone from Kashmir, while in August 2903 trucks left. But till September 26, 17211 trucks were sent from here.”
Rashid explains that the export figures are much higher than last year’s because of primarily two reasons: local apple business has slumped considerably, and cultivators and traders want that the produce should leave the Valley at the earliest because the possibility of selling in the Valley is low.