IN a statement during the lockdown in May last year, fruit growers of Kashmir made a fervent appeal to people of the Valley to consume the local cherries and strawberries in the absence of the transport to ferry these to markets outside the union territory. A similar situation confronts the cherry and strawberry farmers this year too. It is May again, the cherry and strawberry season, and the Valley again is under the Covid-19 lockdown. The farmers are again looking vainly for consumers. Incidentally, this year there has been a bumper strawberry crop.
In recent years, strawberry has emerged as a cash crop in the Valley with many vegetable farmers having switched to strawberry cultivation. But the successive lockdowns during the last two years have hit the consumption of the crop leading to loss to the farmers.
The fruit industry is one of the sectors that has been impacted the most. Horticulture which is spread across 1.87 lakh acres of land earns about Rs 6500 crore for the region. But the lack of labour to pick the crop and absence of transportation led to a significant amount of produce rot on the trees. According to an estimate, 80,000 metric tons of apple had to be stored under Controlled Atmosphere storage last year.
Though cherry and strawberries are a small component of the horticulture produce, it is a highly perishable fruit. Kashmir produces 13000 to 15000 metric tons of cherry and it is worth Rs 150 crore in the market. With mandis and markets closed due to lockdown, the farmers fear that the fruit could go waste causing a huge loss. Cherry is the first crop of Kashmir’s horticulture sector and its harvesting begins from mid-May. Strawberry is another delicate fruit that has been hit. Grown over a limited land, most of it at the village Ghoso on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir produces 400 metric tons of the fruit. With a shelf life of just two to three days, the farmers are struggling to sell it. But the cherry and strawberries are currently being harvested and the farmers, as a result, are a worried lot.
However, the administration’s decision to allow the movement of the produce in fruit mandis has raised the hopes of farmers. They are hopeful that this would provide them access to the market, just what they need this time to find consumers. The administration, on its part, needs to move quickly to facilitate the transportation of the crop. Last year, the farmers had suffered a huge loss. Here is hoping they make the profit this year.
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