Kashmir: the bitter taste of apple pie

Sopore, a small town in the Baramulla district of Jammu & Kashmir, is popularly known as the apple town. It is the second most populous sub-district with a population of about 118,608  and an area of 61 kilometres according to the census of 2011. It homes Asia's second-largest fruit market with an annual turnover of Rs. 2,600 crore.

For representation
For representation

Horticulture produces in Kashmir crosses over 22 lakh metric tonnes annually, of which North Kashmir contributes 60%. In the first fifteen days of the current shutdown, the loss to the market has reached Rs. 108 crore.

Ahmad Wani, one of the fruit traders from Sopore, has witnessed many shutdowns earlier, but this time it is the worst. In his words, “This fruit market is my only way to survive. We were told to vacate the mandi area. I am losing hope day by day. What will I do with tons of apples at home?” An anonymous fruit trader living in the outskirts of Sopore said he had to shift his season’s full produce from Sopore fruit mandi to his home due to recent shutdown.

Another resident of Baramulla district of North Kashmir, Ghulam Mohammad Dar said, “I was supposed to dispatch the consignment on August 10 but we are unable to do so”. He said all of the hard work and investment is at stake. His 10-acre cultivation produce is lying at his home garden ready to be dispatched.

Traders expect a 5-10% rise in prices of apples if the supply delays while 10-12% rise in fruits with shorter shelf life like plums and pears. There will be 30-50% decline in the value of fruits if the consignment is stranded for a couple of days. Fruits are perishable. Lack of fruit supply from Kashmir will affect the prices in the rest of the country.

Chaman Lal Dhingra of Chaman Fruit Centre of Azadpur Mandi in Delhi said that only those trucks from Sopore, Baramulla and Anantnag arrived in the mandi which had been loaded before the Jammu & Kashmir reorganisation. “We have been unable to get in touch with growers in Jammu & Kashmir as there is no phone connectivity. The season has just started in the valley, and there is a 50-60% drop in arrivals,” he said.

This lockdown has come after the government had taken a favourable step to boost local produce by raising duty on US apples from 20% to 70%.

Another apple grower, Shakeel Ahmad Mir, said, ‘all the fruit mandis of Kashmir are going through the same turmoil. Only trucks loaded before the shutdown could reach Delhi. We are unable to contact our associates in Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi. I am sure they too must be worried’.

Horticulture is the backbone of the Jammu and Kashmir’s economy. Covering 20% of the land area, it employs around 3.5 million people. According to the Government of Jammu & Kashmir, website of Horticulture department, horticulture production recorded at 24.9 MLMTs with a turnover of 6000 crores during 2015-16.

Apple cultivation covers the area of 1,44,825 hectares in Kashmir’s ten districts with an average apple production of 17 lakh metric tons annually. This sector employs a large section of uneducated and educated youth and provides business to related trades such as fertiliser, pesticides, agriculture machinery, traders and processing of fruits, etc.

Apart from the horticulture sector, other traders of J&K suffered equally due to the lockdown. Small-scale traders like bakeries and livestock dealers in Kashmir were the worst hit by the shutdown. People were not able to come out and make purchases. Due to the short shelf-life of bakery products, the loss is estimated to Rs. 200 crore. A bakery owner in Karan Nagar area of Srinagar said that he lost around Rs one crore. Srinagar provides a market place to many local traders on the eve of Eid. Small traders from different parts of the valley trade goods in Srinagar to earn a living.

Meanwhile, Jammu-based traders' body Chamber of Traders Federation (CTF) has called for a dedicated corridor to transport apples from Kashmir to Jammu. CTF President Neeraj Anand said, "We demand a dedicated corridor to ship apples and other perishable items from Kashmir zone to Jammu. We will offer all help to government agencies besides distressed valley traders in streamlining business operations".

He also offered assistance to authorities in arranging commodities that Kashmir runs short of by setting up co-ordination committees. A coordinated effort is the need of the hour. Let’s not spoil the taste of apple pie, please.