The Union government’s decision to relax 20% customs duty on apples imported from the United States threatens to drastically reduce the profitability of Kashmiri apple. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as it coincides with a troubling dip in apple prices this year. The Kashmiri apple industry, already grappling with multiple challenges, now faces an additional hurdle.
Farmers in the region have long advocated for a 100 percent duty on apple imports to safeguard the interests of local growers. The higher import duties would ensure better returns for those who toil in Kashmir’s orchards.
The predicament faced by apple growers in Kashmir is indeed dire. They have suffered substantial losses due to rising input costs while having to sell their produce at depressingly low rates. A significant portion of the apple crop, classified as C-grade fruit, is deemed unsuitable for the regular market and could potentially be diverted for juice production. However, this option has been hampered by the inactivity of the Jammu and Kashmir Horticulture Producing and Marketing Corporation in Sopore.
The opposition, comprising the National Conference (NC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the Congress, has promptly voiced their concerns and demanded a reversal of the government’s decision. They assert that the move to appease international interests, particularly those of the United States, is putting the livelihoods of local Kashmiri apple growers at risk.
Omar Abdullah, the Vice President of the NC, has pointed out that the Centre should prioritize local producers’ well-being over international trade considerations, stressing that there is no need for external imports when it comes to apples, walnuts, and almonds. Similarly, the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti expressed grave concerns over the potential devastating consequences for local growers already reeling from significant losses incurred since 2019. She urged the union government to reconsider the decision in light of its profound impact on the region.
Kashmir produces over 73 percent of the total apples grown in India. Official data reveals that apple production in the region exceeded 20 lakh tonnes in 2022 and is projected to reach 22 lakh tonnes in 2023. In Kashmir, horticulture is spread across 1.87 lakh acres of land and employs more than three million people, earning over Rs 10000 crore for the region. This is all in danger now if the authorities do nothing to protect the fruit from the imports made cheaper by the government. But the J&K administration and the central government should know that their responsibility is foremost to the fruit produced in our own country. So, it is time that they intervene before it is too late.
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