Kashmiri Apples & Their Age Old Repute
Jammu and Kashmir is known as temperate fruit bowl of India and is bestowed by nature with production of variety of apple. In India majority of cultivated varieties of apple were introduced by British officers way back in 1865. Apple varieties in Kashmir are popularly juicy and delicious namely Razakwari, Maharaji, Hazratbali, American and Kesari, dominates the apple market in India. Kashmiri apples has lived up to its reputation for being one of the choicest fruit from among various fruits available in markets Pan India.
History has always found an apt mention of Kashmiri apple wherein the famous Chinese pilgrim Huen Tsang, who travelled to Kashmir had made a mention of various temperate fruits like pears, apricot, grapes and apple. Till 1945, there was no clear identification of scientific nomenclature and detailed varieties of fruit trees that are grown in Kashmir. After various surveys, it was identified the availability of 113 varieties of apples besides scores of wild crabs varieties of apples. The various ancient records states that the cultivation of the temperate fruit like apple is nearly 3000 yrs old. One of the most famous places in the Kashmir valley noted for apple production is Sopore in Baramulla dist followed by Shopian in South Kashmir.
Apple Farming is Backbone of Jammu & Kashmir Economy
The 2,400 sq km valley of Kashmir has more area under apple cultivation then the world’s second largest producer of apples i.e the US a 38 lakh sq km country. Kashmir contributes 2 mn metric tonnes of apple with an average yield of 11 tons per ha out of India 2.5 mn metric tonnes produced annually. The apple productivity of the state (11.47 T/ha) is much higher than the national level of approx 8 T / ha and that of China (9.93 T/ha), which is the largest producer of apple. The latest trend indicates that there has been conversion of paddy fields into apple orchards being a more profitable option to farmers. The agriculture land in Kashmir Valley is shrinking at a faster pace, particularly in South Kashmir, once known as the rice bowl of Kashmir. The horticulture department in its recent report, mentioned that the area under the apple crop has increased by approximately 20,000 ha from 1,40,156 ha in the yr 2012- 13 to 1,60,000 ha in the yr 2019-20.
India is the 5th largest producer of apples in the world even though its share in global apple production is just 3 percent. More then two third of the national apple production comes from the valley of Kashmir. Out of 3 lakh of land under apple cultivation in India, 1.6 lakh is in the Kashmir valley. Nearly seven lakh families are directly or indirectly associated with Kashmir’s biggest economy, i.e Rs 8,000 – 9,000 crore apple industry, which is 47 percent of the total population in Kashmir.
Supply chain in apple production comprises of vast network of suppliers, marketing channels and services that helps in production and delivery of apples to final consumer. The biggest wholesale market for apple is Fruit and Vegetable Market Azadpur, Delhi, where about 70 percent of the total traded apple is distributed followed by Mumbai, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. The season of arrival of apples from Kashmir to the markets Pan India is Aug to Nov with a peak in Sep to Oct. There are a number of marketing channels, of which the sale through pre harvest contractor is the most important system of marketing. Normally the small orchard owners sell their crop at flowering stage to the contractors who organizes plant protection, plucking and packing of fruits. The medium and large orchard owners prefer to market their produce through forward agents or commission agents. As far as the storage capacity is concerned, there are about 36 cold storage in J&K out of 6,000 in the country. Also, there is poor integration of domestic markets with those of national markets.
Govt Initiative Post Abrogation of Article 370 & 35A
On questioning the state Govt regarding the economic impact of abrogation of article 370 & 35A on J&K, the then Ministry of state for home affairs had stated that the full economic potential of J&K and Ladakh region could not be realized for the past 70 years as the people of J&K have suffered from terrorist violence and separatism supported from across the border for the past few decades. According to Govt officials, Kashmir exports around 20 lakh metric tons of apple every year and the horticulture industry is pegged to be around 8000 to 9000 crores including the employment it generates. The apple exports witnessed a dip in the early season of apple harvest in year 2019, in wake of communication blockade and trt forced clamp down post 05 August 2019. In areas of South Kashmir, terrorists asked orchard owners to not harvest the apple crop and wait for their directions.
In an attempt to counter the protests and urge farmers to harvest the apple crop, the Civic administration introduced Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) to directly buy apples from the farmers from four centers i.e Sopore, Srinagar, Shopian and Anantnag located in the Valley. With launching of MIS under which National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Limited (NAFED) could procure and market the apple produce, also broke the monopoly of apple traders and their commission agents, who would fleece the apple growers in absence of the alternative market options. The apple growers were happy to sell an apple box to NAFED at Rs 1200/- and C-grade apple for Rs 20 to 24 per kg which they would usually sell at not more than Rs 10/- per kg.
Why was it challenging for NAFED to buy all apples from Kashmir Valley? Under the heavy security restrictions, NAFED was tasked to procure apple from Kashmir through designated State Govt agencies at right prices, giving very short preparation time. As per NAFED, the preparations involved opening of their offices/branches at number of places for registration of apple growers, collecting their Aadhar and bank account details for making direct benefit transfer payment. Ideally, this process should have happened at the time of flowering. Other reason was the pre commitment of apple growers with the apple traders in outside state mandis with whom they have been doing business for decades. Normally the small apple growers borrow advance money from the fruit traders in march every year and become captive to them. An apple exporter stated that in Sopore alone apple farmers have borrowed Rs 2,000 crores as advance from buyers outside Kashmir. In such state they are not in a condition to sell their crop to the Govt. Unlike North Kashmir, only 50 percent growers in South Kashmir sell their crop to buyers in advance. “ The South Kashmir growers is a progressive grower” most of them are not tempted to getting advance payments. As a result, they could sell their apple crop through NAFED and got better price. The Govt of J&K claimed that NAFED procured 8,960 MT of apples at a cost of Rs 70 crores during the year 2019-20. Anantnag and Shopian together contributed the bulk of procurement amounting to 86% of the total procurement through MIS/NAFED.
The initial target of Govt to procure 12 MT out of 20 MT of apple under MIS was spurred by the attack on four apple growers, including a two year old girl by the terrorists in Sopore for not observing the forced shutdown announced by these inimical elements. The situation further deteriorated on killing of truck drivers, from outside state and civil labours employed in brick kilns in Shopian and Pulwama district. This atrocity of terrorists, for some time, had put the transportation on halt and compelled civil labour to leave the valley out of fear. However, with timely intervention of Govt agencies, the transportation and trade business was restored soon. Owing to heavy snow fall in first weak of Nov 2019, thousands of trucks carrying apple outside the Valley were stranded on the NH – 44. But, the day & night presence of security forces along the highway ensured safety & security of these stranded truck drivers. The civil administration in coordination with the security forces also ensured close protection to the apple growers who were getting their crop to the apple mandis. The Batingo apple mandi in Anantnag district witnessed maximum purchase of apple by NAFED.
The Govt initiative of launching of MIS under which NAFED could procure and market the apple crop witnessed a mixed response among the apple growers due to reasons as mentioned above. The apple growers who could sell their produce through NAFED shared experience of getting good price of their crop and most importantly, timely payment direct to their bank account without any hassle of getting trapped by commission agents and traders. Measures to make the registration user friendly would encourage maximum beneficiaries to discard the old traditional chain of traders and commission agents.
Another issue is, sensitizing the apple growers, specially the small land holders, to encourage them to approach Cooperative Banks/ J&K Bank which offers easy loan at the rate of 4 percent. Otherwise such people get trapped and become captive to big apple traders who functions from outside the Valley. The state Govt must take a step forward to encourage prospective entrepreneurs to establish food processing units in the Kashmir Valley as part of the overall development plan in J&K. The state has 3 food parks, 10 industrial parks and 6 cold chain projects giving investors all chance for setting up of food processing units. The state industrial policy provides incentives along with single – window clearance mechanism. Availability of such units in the Valley would definitely facilitate the apple growers to sell a particular variety of apple to these food processing units which otherwise, may not be cost effective, if transported outside the state.
A well laid out transport network and developed lines of communication, be it road, rail or air, would further boost apple trade link with the main land and overall economy of the state. As the time is approaching for harvest for this season, govt initiative to streamline the business process that set the ball rolling last season in the deleterious environment would not only establish their credentials and progressive intent but also would bring better prospects for the apple growers of Kashmir.