The Kashmir Valley produces 77 percent of the country’s apples which earn around Rs 10,000 crore for the state. This qualifies the apple trade as the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. But lingering shutdown and communication blockade in the Valley and the recent killings of ten non-local truckers and traders associated with the trade have wrought havoc with the industry.
It has raised the cost of sending apple to markets across the country. The transport rates which otherwise hovered around Rs 80 per apple box for the capital have now gone up to around Rs 200 and similarly for states down south the rates have gone up from Rs 200 to around Rs 400. An apple box weighs 15-20 kg and different varieties of rice can fetch rates anywhere between Rs 500 to Rs 1400.
A substantial portion of the apple has been wasted for want of buyers and also transportation outside the state. Until middle of October, thickly hanging apple trees lay unpicked across a large area under orchards. Farmers faced formidable challenges in picking, packing and transporting the produce to markets outside the state. At times, they found it difficult to transport the produce even to Kashmir’s own fruit markets. Lack of communications became the single most impeding factor. Though restoration of postpaid mobile phones has eased the situation a bit, lack of internet remains a problem.
The long distance these apples have to travel is not a problem; it is the transportation hazards that apple growers want protection from. More so, during the periods of unrest. The extraordinary situation prevailing in the Valley following revocation of Article 370 has taken a huge toll on the horticulture spread across 1.87 lakh acres of land and employing more than three million people in the newly created Union Territory.
Also, apart from the political situation, the apple industry is done in by the infrastructure bottle-necks too. The inadequate infrastructure and lack of proper transportation cause hundreds of kilos of apples to rot and go bad along the way to other markets in the country.
The longstanding promise of the authorities to procure refrigerated vans for the safe transport of apples is yet to fully materialise. There aren’t sufficient cold storage facilities that could have helped growers to not only preserve apples for a longer time but also release it to the market when they got a good price. Without these facilities the apple farmers are forced to sell their produce immediately. Farmers have also showed dissatisfaction with the recently announced Government Market Intervention Scheme whereby a state run cooperative was charged to buy all the apple produce at competitive prices. They have accused the cooperative of not paying competitive prices as claimed but far less than that.
The new government under Lieutenant Governor Girish Chander Murmu will hopefully take stock of the problems being faced by the apple industry and take urgent steps to address them.