Srinagar- Apple farmers of Kashmir have pinned their hopes on increased consumption during Ramazan and expect the authorities to allow hassle-free sale of the premium fruit that is on the verge of becoming a white elephant for the growers due to the nationwide lockdown.
The farmers of the valley had put away nearly one lakh tonnes of high quality premium apple, worth approximately Rs 350 crore, in the 22 cold storage of the valley in October last year in the hope of releasing the produce to terminal markets of the country around March-April this year.
However, the lockdown imposed across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic means that the apples cannot be sent to the markets.
"As there is little hope of normalcy returning anytime soon, this treasure of apples has now turned into a white elephant. We are spending Rs 30 to 35 per box every month as cold storage charges," Mohammad Saleem Wani, a fruit grower, told PTI.
Wani said the only hope of liquidating a part of the produce was through local sales but it has to be facilitated by the authorities.
"These high quality apples are normally sent to retail outlets of companies like Reliance Fresh and Big Basket and fetch a very high premium.
"Whatever quantity we are able to sell locally will at least help us to recover part of the costs incurred. Otherwise, we may not be able to tend to this year's crop," he added.
Maajid Wafai, president of the Cold Atmosphere Storage Owners Association, said more than three million apple boxes worth nearly Rs 35 crore were stored in various facilities in the valley.
"There are many issues arising out of lock down. Some issues cannot be wished away but certain thinks can be improved," Wafai said.
He said the government can allow free passage to apple trucks going out of Kashmir, passing instructions to officials and cops on the ground not to unnecessarily stop the movement of these vehicles.
"Only 50 to 60 trucks go out of Kashmir per day. These trucks should be allowed to ply daily as there is hardly any movement of traffic on Srinagar-Jammu highway these days," he said, referring to one-way traffic movement on highway imposed by the traffic department.
Tanveer ul Haq, another fruit dealer from Shopian district of south Kashmir, said some local courier companies had come forward with the idea of delivering the apples directly to the customers.
"There are two issues here -- high charges of the courier company and non-cooperation by law enforcers on the ground. Some cops allow the movement of fruit vehicles while some detain them saying apple is not an essential item," Haq said.
He said the administration should facilitate the movement of the apples from cold stores to the markets within the valley.
"A challan from the cold store mentioning the destination of the truck should serve as a movement pass for that particular day," he suggested.
The apple growers are also pinning their hopes on their fellow Kashmiris to consume as much of the fruit as possible during the fasting month of Ramzan.
"People of Kashmir take a lot of fruits like watermelon, grapes, kiwis, etc during the fasting month. I would request them to replace one of the fruits with apple so that the burden of local apple farmers is eased somewhat," Haq added.
Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Pandurang Kundbarao Pole said more than 30 truck loads of apples were going to markets outside Kashmir daily.
"More than 1000 metric tonne apple has gone out of the valley till date. Right now the issue is not of restrictions on movement or transportation but of demand outside Kashmir," Pole said.
He said the administration is already facilitating movement of apples within the valley as well.
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