As apple harvesting season is drawing close in Kashmir, the growers want government to step up and secure markets for their cash crop.
By Bisma Farooq | Kashmir Observer
INSIDE his good-sized orchard, nestled nearby the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway in district Baramulla, Bashir Khan is scanning his apple-laden trees with a palpable pessimism.
Despite campaigning for his cash crop ready to hit market this September, he isn’t much hopeful about good returns.
“We met union minister, send SOS to prime minister and even alerted administration, but nothing is coming to our rescue,” says Bashir, a fifty-plus apple grower from Baramulla.
“As government has failed to heed to our pleas, there is only one solution left now. Let them do it like Russia, as the prime minister wants us to be vocal for local.”
Since Russia has put ban on all imported fruits for the sake of promoting the local produce, the Kashmiri growers want government to follow suit and secure markets for native apple growers across India.
“If that’s not possible,” Bashir says with a thoughtful gaze, “then government should put one hundred percent import duty on Iranian apples.”
The case of Iranian apples eating away the market share of Kashmiri apples was first raised in September 2021 when the growers from the valley met Union Agriculture Minister in Srinagar.
During the meeting with Narender Singh Tomar, the growers said that a certain—“unchecked”—market intrusion is going to crush the backbone of Kashmir economy if not tackled on time.
Tomar promised a “dynamic change” in the face of Kashmir’s growing apple anguish.
But before meeting him, the representatives of Kashmir’s largest employment generator had written a letter to the PMO, alerting it about the duty-free dumping of Iranian apples arriving via Afghanistan and Dubai in India.
“This situation has put the whole fruit industry both in J&K (UT) and Himachal Pradesh in a very precarious situation as it has eaten away our share in the market,” the letter, whose copy lies with Kashmir Observer, reads.
Stating that India is one of the world’s largest producers of apples, the letter notes, that about 70 per cent of households in Jammu and Kashmir are directly or indirectly dependent on the sector.
“There are more than 1.50 crore boxes of apple produce stored in different cold stores,” the letter reads. “Similarly, there are additional 1.50 crore boxes of apple in godowns which belong to small and marginal growers who expect that after the harvesting season is over, the produce stored will fetch reasonable process in the market.”
The fruit growers requested the prime minister to restrict the flow of Iranian apples in India.
But two months after Tomar’s assurance, Iranian apples started flooding the markets across India and unnerved the native growers. Since these imported apples cost less, they took over the market and started hitting the local growers hard.
Nearly a year after meeting the union agriculture minister, Mohammed Sideeq from Sopore sits on the gate of his orchard. He roughly estimates the expenditure on pesticides, fertilizers, boxes, labour, carriage and storage and finds out he won’t be able to get even the spent money back.
“We get a very less price to our apples now,” Sideeq rues. “It’s because of the imported apples. I don’t know how to pay my loan that I took for apple production.”
During his Kashmiri visit, the union agriculture minister had also said that the valley is “an important region standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the country’s progress and development towards self-reliance”.
But the letter sent to his Delhi office had conveyed a lingering threat to that “self-reliance”.
“The imported fruits will hit the horticulture sector of Kashmir by declining the rate and the demand,” it said. “It will affect the seven lakh families of not only Kashmir, but numerous families of country as well.”
As the new harvest season is around the corner, the impact of the free-flowing import is already glaring in the boroughs of Budgam.
While waiting to reap their “labour of love”, the growers are conveying a sense of unhappiness. The harvest time festive vibes are also missing.
“What would you do with this bumper crop if you have no market available,” says Rahim Bhat, an apple grower from Budgam. “We’re staring at the bleak situation which has literary put our survival at stake.”
The same concern is coming from Kashmir’s Apple bowl—Shopian.
As growers are bracing up for the upcoming harvest season, the market blues are leaving many of them dissatisfied.
“The shifting market order is disheartening,” says Kaiser Mir, a young grower. “We can’t feed our entire produce to the limited local market, just like we tried to do last year. Losing domestic market to these Iranian apples is a big blow to us.”
Apple cultivation and its value chain is one of the main stays of rural economy with revenue of around Rs. 1500 crores. The productivity of apple at present is around 11 MT/hectare compared to over 40 MT/hectare in Italy, Chile, France, etc.
“Since this import problem is damaging the revenues of Uttrakhand and Shimla as well,” says Mudasir Ahmad, President Buyers’ Association of Kashmir, “we want government to put one hundred percent tax on these apples so that our own production won’t lose the market.”
The domestic market, Mudasir says, should be reserved for the local growers and buyers first.
The same concern is coming from Bashir Khan’s highway orchard where he’s checking his crop.
“The government takes initiatives to increase the production, but when there is no market for the same production, it can only doom the horticulture industry,” he says.
“It’s time to adopt the Kremlin model to secure the rights of the native growers.”