Farmers distraught over falling prices of apple crop
Plummeting prices, particularly in markets around Delhi, has pushed apple growers in Kashmir into despair. The apple industry in Kashmir remains in the throes of a deep crisis.
Ghulam Mohammad (70) is upset with the plummeting prices of the apple harvest, following the recent attacks on non-Kashmiri truckers and labourers in the Valley.
Mohammad, a well-heeled fruit grower of Shopian district's Keegam hamlet, some 45 kms south of Srinaagr, owns a large orchard, sprawling over 20-25 kanals of land.
The deep slump in the prices has forced Ghulam not to sell his produce. At the same time he is not sure if there will be any increase in the rates in the coming weeks.
According to Mohammed, an apple carton weighing about 17 Kg is sold for Rs 400 to 500 as against the normal price of Rs 700 to 800 during this season.
He says most of the small growers in the apple belt of Shopian and Pulwama area prefer not to sell their produce at such distress prices. “The cost of farming has significantly gone up in the recent years and growers can't afford to sell their produce at such dirt cheap prices", said Mohammed.
In the neighbouring Pinjoora, an apple rich village tucked away in dense apple orchards, a sixty four year grower, Mohammad Yousuf, says that he had never in his life seen the apple industry in such a terrible crisis. “The apple industry is in deep trouble. I have never seen such a nasty fall in business even during the troubled nineties when young men en masse joined militancy", he laments.
Yousuf points out that everything is happening under a well-thought-out conspiracy.
The reasons that growers give for the tumbling prices are many, and a string of attacks on non-locals is one of them. As many as 10 persons including truckers, labourers and a fruit traders were gunned down by unidentified gunmen in three southern Kashmir districts --Shopian, Pulwama and Kulgam,
"As the anonymous gunmen, who according to police are militants, ratcheted up their attacks on non-locals, fruit traders from outside Jammu and Kashmir have stopped coming to Kashmir to procure the fruit from the local Mandis", say a band of fruit growers who did not wish to be named, adding that those who were in Kashmir fled overnight particularly after a trader was killed and another injured in Pinjoora village.
Blocking the convoy of fruit laden trucks at Qazigund, along the Srinagar-Jammu highway, for upto three to four days is another reason for the falling prices in outstation Mandis, particularly in Delhi.
"When the trail of trucks are allowed to ply after a gap of four days, hundreds of trucks arrive at a time in Azadpur Mandi which creates imbalance in the supply--demand system", says Sajad Ahmad, a local truck driver.
Only a few local traders purchase the crop directly from the growers and they too face a host of problems."The administration has asked the non-Kashmiri truckers to park their lorries at a acouple of designated points only. They are strictly asked not to go into the interiors where they could be vulnerable to the attacks of unknown gunmen. So now we have to use local transport to ferry the crop from those points from where it is loaded up again in their trucks” says Ashiq Hussain, a local trader, adding that the whole process including loading and unloading means much more expense.
Gulzar Ahmad, another local apple trader says that this season he has transported merely a few hundred apple boxes. "By this time, I would normally procure and transport dozens of apple laden trucks to different Mandis outside Jammu and Kashmir", says Ahmad.
According to many local fruit traders, the district administration issued a verbal advisory’s fee weeks back asking the truckers to leave the district immediately amidst growing attacks on them.
A senior government official, however, denies that any such advisory has been issued. " We did not issue any such order. Truckers are very much in Shopian town doing their normal business", he says.
The farmers also gripe that the government's much hyped market intervention scheme, National Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED), is terribly short staffed. "There is only a handful of people from NAFED who procure the crop. They purchase only a few thousand boxes of apples per day", says Javed Ahmad, a local trader.
The farmers, however, say that NAFED has been purchasing all the three grades--A, B, and C-- of apples and provide comparatively better prices. NAFED purchases Grade A for Rs 60 per Kg while for Grade B and C they provide Rs 44 and Rs 23 respectively.