“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” goes the old-age adage. But the producer of apple is in distress. And government looks as a mere spectator. Govt’s surprising apathy and callous approach towards the horticulture industry in Kashmir has brought this industry on the verge of collapse.
The beginning of the harvest season brings everyone on their toes to gather the crops for which they work hard throughout the year. It not only gives a sense of gratification to the farmer but encourages him to continue the farming. The practice of apple picking involves everyone in the family from young children to senior members of the family. However, this year the farmer is disinterested to even gather the production on what he has spent lot of money and energy as the market has drastically fallen rather has not taken the momentum that a farmer was hoping and expecting.
Ependiture rises manifolds
The expenditure has risen manifolds but the income has drastically come down this year. A farmer on average spends 500 to 600 on one apple box that consists of 17 to 18 kgs but gets 400 only in return after all the hardwork throughout the year. Apple farming is the main source of income in Kashmir and provides livelihood to over 45 lakh people in Kashmir. Its contribution towards country’s total apple production is near about 77 per cent. Kashmir produces around 2 million metric tonnes of apple every year, with its apple industry estimated to be worth Rs 10,000 crore.
Kashmir lacks facilities of controlled atmosphere stores. The grower is dependent on the mandis and can not store his production for a longer period at home. The packed apple boxes needs to reach to the mandis quickly but the unexplained haltage of fruit laden trucks at Jammu Kashmir National Highway for days resulted in damaging the quality of the apple. And has become a major cause for the slump of market. J&K administration seems to be in deep slumber in managing the traffic on Srinagar-Jammu highway that stretched near about 250 kms only.
Jammu Kashmir Kisan Tehrike held a day long convention of apple growers in Kulgam on 25th September, 2022 wherein the problems and difficulties faced by the apple growers in sending their produce to different parts of the mandis in country were discussed. Mohd Yousuf Tarigami, CPI(M) leader, repraimended govt for not ensuring the hassle free movement of apple trucks. And demanded 100 per cent import duty on apple as the low custom duty on import apples squeezes market for the kashmiri apple.
Gh Nabi Malik, Jammu Kashmir Kisan Tehrike General Secretary, remarked, “Growers were expecting good market but due to the halting of apple ladden trucks on Srinagar–Jammu highway for many days, the apples lost their quality resulting in low rates”.
Zahoor Ahmad, An apple grower, had an apprehension that if the situation persists, farmer suicide which is unheard and unusual in Kashmir may be heard.
Apart from the mismanagement of the trafiic on Srinagar- Jammu highway, the farmers encountered a new type of pests in their farms. A new type of pest emerged in south-Kashmir’s Shopian district in the month of july-August last year and this pest which is known as ‘Leaf Miner’ engulfed the whole South-Kashmir this year. J&K’s research and scientific communities in Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) and Horitculture department are yet to find a viable solution of this problem. The farmers sprayed many pesticides to control it but did not get the desired result. Farmers have the apprehension that this pest may destroy all their farms if government do not pay strict attention towards it. The low budgetary allocation for the research from the government to the university and the department is worrisome.
Harvesting not an easy job
Apple harvesting is like a festival not only for the farmers but for the different sections of the people who are directly or indirectly involved with it- be it transporters, packers, carton and wooden boxes manufacturers and what not.
It is not that the apple farming is an easy job to do and does not involve any sort of risk. Apple farming is skilled work where the farmer should be aware about the nitty-gritty of the farming. Farmer is always dependent on the nature and any small deviation from the weather can destroy the whole production of the farmer in just span of ten minutes e.g hailstorm. Farmers have a little almost no control over the Natural disasters but govt’s policies and lack of will power to make Kisan-oriented policies are bringing the horticulture industry on the brink of collapse. Moreover, there is no proper mechanism of controlling the spurious pesticides and the rates are not regulated properly. Farmers are waiting for the government’s result-oriented intervention and if it does not come sooner, the horticulture industry in Kashmir may receive a major setback.
Abass Rather, CPI(M) Leader and is currently DDC Member from Kulgam. The article first published in Counter Currents.