Doom in Kashmir, bloom in Middle East

Kashmiri apple growers faced extreme hardships in selling their produce this year and the government’s Market Intervention Scheme almost failed to take off barring some success in the Middle East, Junaid Kathju sends an in-depth report.

Even though the government’s much-hyped apple scheme did not find any takers in the Valley, Kashmir-grown apples took the Middle East market by the storm.

Under the Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) against a target of 12 lakh metric tons, the government managed to procure only 11,187 metric tons of Kashmiri apples.

The government launched MIS in September this year as part of its initiative to help growers sell apple produce. However, it received a negligible response from the growers, putting a question mark over the success of the scheme.

Of the total 20 lakh metric tons of apple that the growers produce every year, the government under MIS had set a target to purchase 12 lakh metric tons.

As per the officials, the government could purchase only 7.45 lakh boxes weighing 11,187 metric tons of apples worth Rs 52 crore from fruit growers in the Valley since September 9.

The government procured maximum apples from the militancy-hit south Kashmir region.

The growers from Batingoo, Anantnag in south Kashmir top the list followed by procurement from Shopian and Kulgam district.

The data reveals that the government purchased 4.13 lakh apple boxes from Anantnag, which had 700 registered growers.

From Parimpora market in Srinagar, which has 180 registered apple growers, the government purchased 8320 boxes.

In Sopore, Baramulla fruit mandi, which has 200 registered growers, the government procured 11,697 boxes of apples.

In Shopian fruit mandi, which has 150 registered growers, the government purchased 2,28,390 apple boxes.

In Kulgam, the government managed to purchase 84,017 apple boxes since September 7.

Director J&K Horticulture Planning and Marketing department, G M Dar said more growers were approaching the administration to sell their produce.

“It is a slow start but we are expecting more in the coming days,” Dar said.

The official figures reveal that the growers exported a total of 13 lakh metric tons of apples which also include apples procured by the government under the MIS.

The MIS was launched in collaboration with J&K Horticulture, Planning and Marketing department, National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) and Department of Horticulture, Kashmir.

The government has fixed a minimum price of Rs 52 for A-grade apple per kg.

Similarly, the B and C grade would be purchased at Rs 36 and Rs 15.

Jammu Kashmir has second largest area in the world under apple cultivation and contributes 75 percent apple produce of India.

The annual apple production in Kashmir is estimated at an approximate 20 lakh metric tons, an economy worth Rs 8000 crore.

Meanwhile, Kashmiri-grown apples have taken the Middle East market by the storm as around 200 tons of fruit were sold within weeks after hitting the retail stores in the desert destination.

The UAE -based retail company ‘Lulu Group’ that was in the Valley last month had taken  200 tons of apples as “sample” to be tested in the Middle East markets before signing a deal with the local growers here.

Director Lulu Group of Oman, Sri Lanka, and India, A V Ananth said the produce (Kashmiri apple) got a massive response from the consumers in the Middle East countries like UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

“Apples have been a massive hit in the retail market and consumers like it. We sold all 200 tons of Kashmiri apples within few days of arrival,” he said.

Ananth said, keeping in view the demand for Kashmiri apples in the Middle East market, the company ordered 500 more tons (25 containers) of apples from local growers in the Valley.  

“We are in touch with many local growers in Kashmir. From next year, we will sign a full-fledged deal with them,” he said.

According to him, apart from the apples, Kashmiri saffron and walnuts have also received positive response in the market.

“We have also ordered more quantity of these two products,” he said.

The 500 tons of apples include all the varieties like Delicious and American.

A team of five-members of the international retail company had arrived on a two-day visit to the Valley in October.

The delegation had met the then Advisor to Governor, Farooq Khan to know about the various government schemes.

The Group also held a meeting with apple and saffron associations to know about their production and also visited apple orchards and cold storages units at Lassipora Industrial Estate in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

Ananth said they would soon contact the government to share their area of interest in agriculture and food processing units.

“We are at the initial stage. The future looks bright,” he said.

Lulu Group was the first international company to visit Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370.

The visit of the UAE-based business group is part of government’s initiative to bring big investors to the Valley to improve region’s economy.

President of Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union (KVFG), Bashir Ahmad Basheer while welcoming the Lulu Group accused the government of not doing enough to secure the interest of growers and fruit dealers in the Valley.

The Valley-based apple growers have estimated 90 percent loss to orchards after Kashmir received its first snowfall earlier this month.

Basheer said apart from the damage to apple crop which was under harvest, 80 percent of fruit plants of all orchards of the Valley were uprooted after the recent untimely heavy snowfall.

He said it would take at least 15 years for the growers to replace a fresh fruit plant with the broken ones.

Basheer said as per the initial report of losses received from the office bearers of KVFG, the minimum losses of the fruit orchards was to the tune of Rs 5000 crore.

“The annual turnover of the Horticulture sector is Rs 10,000 crore. So, even if we consider only 50 per cent of damage, it still amounts to Rs 5000 crore losses,” he said.

Basheer said the fruit growers should also be granted interest-free loans for five years so that they may be in a position to re-build their fruit orchards afresh.

“Moreover, there is a need for implementing crop insurance scheme separately for apple crop and fruit plants,” Basheer said.

Meanwhile, the government is mulling to declare the snowfall on November 6 and 7 as a “natural calamity” to get relief to the farmers under the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF).

A meeting in this regard was recently held under the supervision of Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Khan in which it was decided that the matter of declaring November 6 and 7 snowfall as a natural calamity would be immediately taken up with the government so that relief is paid under the SDRF.

The apple growers of Kashmir have been under extreme stress after the abrogation of Article 370.

On the one hand, they were not able to sell their produce at the expected prices due to communication and internet blockade, on the other hand, at least 11 non-local truckers and traders who would ferry their produce were killed by unidentified gunmen. This thus made apple, one of the specialities coming out from Kashmir, the “forbidden fruit”.

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