The fruit growers and traders in Kashmir are presently a worried lot: Reason, there is almost 30 per cent drop in demand for Kashmiri apples in the Delhi market as compared to last season. The stakeholders believe the drop in the demand is a result of the "overall economic downturn" coupled with some local factors.
"The quality of the fruit is not that good this year mainly because of the inclement weather and use of substandard pesticides and fungicides," they said.
Speaking to Greater Kashmir, Bashir and Baseer, President, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Union (KVFG) said the improper grading of the fruit has dwindled the demand.
"About 70 per cent of the apple fruit produced in Kashmir is of B and C grade which is sold at throwaway prices of Rs 100- Rs 250 per box in the Delhi market," he said. "Only 30 percent fruit is of A-grade which fetches a dealer somewhere between Rs 500-Rs 600 per box.
"Any extraordinary quality fruit will fetch maximum Rs 700 per box," Basheer said.
According to Basheer almost 90 per cent of apple growers are 'small time growers' with just 10 -20 kanals of land. "These growers perforce raise debts leading to collapse of their business. "There is almost Rs 60 – Rs 70 transportation cost along with insurance and labour charges per box. The small grower is left with no profit. "Sub-standard pesticides should not come to Kashmir which is the main reason for damage to the fruit," he said. "The hailstorm witnessed in several areas last year caused scab to the fruit while unseasonal rains also hit the produce. "The scab has surfaced after three years. Lakhs of people are directly or indirectly involved with the apple trade in Kashmir, so any harmful impact to the fruit industry hits Kashmir economy," he said.
According to Basheer, lack of testing labs and grading machines has negatively impacted apple industry. "Earlier there was no testing lab but recently funds have been granted for two labs. We have demanded that labs be set-up in each district so that dealers could quality pesticides," he said.
A Sopore-based apple grower said the state government should increasingly focus on high density plants and provide root stocks on subsidy.
"Horticulture department introduced Bulgarian which does not have a good shelf life. They must introduce roots that will have a healthy demand in international markets," the grower said. Altaf Ahmad, an grower from Shopian said instead of organizing awareness camps at their premises, SKUAST and Horticulture department should hold such camps at grassroots level.
Many growers in district Anantnag are looking forward to the upcoming terminal market at Jablipura in Bijbehara since there are only three terminal markets in the entire state at present. "Apart from the Srinagar, Sopore and Narwal, we need more terminal markets which can operate round the year. There also needs to be better irrigation facilities for apple orchards which are located at an elevation," he said.