Horticulture takes major blow
Zubair A. Dar
Srinagar: The engine of JK’s rural economy – horticulture – is heading for a major hit with rates of apple falling drastically – beyond 50 percent in certain grades. The situation is resultant of a desperate selling practice as Kashmir has yielded a bumper crop this year.
The loss is estimated to cost a whooping 1000 crore rupees this year for want of a retention capacity for fresh fruit in Kashmir despite being a major apple producing region, making the growers anxious. The problem is complicated by the absence of a proper marketing mechanism for fresh fruit from Kashmir. According to a rough estimate, 4 to 6 crore rupees are lost by Kashmir growers every day in Azadpur where 500 truck-loads of apple are sold every day. The total losses for the last one and a half month amount to over Rs 250 crore. “Last year, the yield in my orchard was 800 boxes. This year, it increased to 1400 boxes but the rates fell from 850 to 350 per box for the top quality apple,” says Shabir Ahmad, a grower in Shopian, one of the major apple producing areas in south Kashmir.
The annual average produce in Kashmir ranges between 10 to 11 lakh metric tones. This year, however, the bumper crop has increased the estimated yield between 20 and 25 percent, taking the total yield to 14 lakh metric tones. Shabir says that he was forced to send his apple, which otherwise he could have retained till rates improved, to Delhi’s Azadpur market before winter. “Highway remains closed for several days during winters so we have to sell it as early as possible. We can not store it. There is no cold store to preserve our apple till an appropriate time when rates would again increase,” says the grower.
Like Shabir, most of the growers are desperate to sell off their produce before the packed fruit rots. Around 80 percent of Kashmir’s apple produce is exported annually while the rest is consumed in local market. With 5.5 crore boxes of apple likely to be exported this year, as against a 4.0 crore boxes last year, around a half has already been supplied outside the state, mainly to Azadpur. Rest is waiting to be supplied in trucks at the earliest, some of it already making its way to Delhi.
While an increase in apple yield should have played to the benefit of the growers, it has proved fatal for the industry. Unable to break the strong trader lobby, growers blame the government for failing to provide assistance in marketing the apple better. “Last year I sold 800 boxes of fruit for 4 lac rupees. This year, the yield increased but the price fell to 2 lakhs,” says Mohammad Akbar, a grower in Kulgam. “A trader from Delhi who purchased my fruit here offered me same rates as were prevalent in Azadpur while the freight was deducted from the amount,” he adds. “Had there been a store, we could have waited for better times.” When asked why the growers do not look beyond Delhi while selling their fruit, Akbar said that the market is beyond his reach and it is for the government to guide him. “Who would show us the way?”
However, the Horticulture Marketing and Produce Department disputes the allegation by claiming that changing the mindset of the grower is nearly impossible. Says the director, Showkat Zargar, “No one can dispute the fact that our retention capacity is minimal. But markets are not closed for the grower. We have failed to change the mindset despite trying all these years. The grower does not look beyond Azadpur.” Adds the director, “We have no enforcing powers. We can only guide them not compel them.” For now, however, the collaboration does not appear to work, taking Kashmir horticulture to its lowest ebb. “Even desperate times can be expected in future,” the director admits, while adding, “Unless the growers do not cooperate. They have a right to agitate. But they also have to behave responsibly.”