Cherries in abundance in Kashmir but farmers find no markets
Cherry trees across the Kashmir Valley are laden with fruit after a good season but farmers are staring at the possibility of heavy losses due to a lack of transportation because of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The railways have offered to ease the burden of farmers by transporting the fruit to various states from Amritsar. However, farmers continue to be worried because of problems related to the movement of trucks till Amritsar.
Officials said they requested Northern Railways to help transport Kashmir’s cherries and this was accepted on the condition that the fruits are delivered to the railhead at Amritsar.
“From June 1, Northern Railways has agreed to transport four to six metric tonnes of cherries daily from Amritsar to Delhi and Mumbai. We requested them to transport the fruits from Jammu, but that didn’t materialise,” said Manzoor Ahmad Mir, deputy director for horticulture planning and marketing.
Mir said tentative figures showed the production of cherries in the Kashmir Valley this year is about 12,000 metric tonnes. Last year, the figure was around 11,700 metric tonnes.
Kashmir exports some 3,500 to 4000 metric tonnes of cherries to other states every year, he said.
Despite the sizeable yield, farmers are a worried lot because of the lack of demand following the closure of markets and difficulties in transporting the cherries from farms to markets amid Covid-19-related restrictions.
“The market is down and we aren’t getting good rates here. I am getting Rs 45 to Rs 50 a kg this year as against last year’s Rs 75 to Rs 90 a kg. Shops and markets here are closed and our cherries must reach other states, otherwise they won’t survive,” said Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, a farmer from Lar Ganderbal in central Kashmir.
Kashmir produces four types of cherries – Awwal Number, Double, Mishri and Makhmali – with the latter two being sold to other states.
“This year, we had a lot of expectations from the cherry crop as apple trees suffered damage due to bad weather during flowering. Our livelihood and the education of our children are dependent on this. If something is not done immediately, our families are going to suffer,” Sheikh said.
Apart from low demand, there are difficulties in transporting the fruits even within the region, and this has triggered fears the fruits could get spoiled if they are not harvested immediately.
“Cherries are extremely perishable, with a very short shelf life. We aren’t able to transport the fruits as there are no movement passes. Even if some have passes, free movement is still not allowed owing to the lockdown,” said Pardeep Singh, whose family owns a farm in north Kashmir’s Baramulla.
Deputy director Mir said authorities have taken up the matter of transportation with Kashmir’s divisional commissioner. “We have requested t divisional commissioner that fruit transportation should get priority on the national highway and there should be no hindrance to the movement of trucks,” he said.
Cherries are grown on an estimated 2,713 hectares in Kashmir and over the years, the production has increased. From 8,282 metric tonnes during 2016-17, the figure increased to 11,280 metric tonnes in 2017-18 and further to 11,789 metric tonnes in 2018-19.
The farmers said they have also been hit by logistical issues.
“The fruit is ready but there are no cardboard boxes in the markets to pack them. Industries are closed and so there is scarcity of boxes,” said Mudasir Ahmad Lone, another farmer from Baramulla.
“The government should do something, they should buy some fruit themselves and open industries and mandis,” he said.
A senior official of the horticulture department, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had submitted proposals to the government for opening cherry processing units.
“We have 25 cherry processing units for canning the fruit. We have asked the government to provide transportation and packaging for farmers, besides permission to open these units. The proposal for providing minimum support price to farmers did not mature. Let’s see what will happen as time is running out,” said the official.