Amid coronavirus lockdown in the country, the demand for Kashmir’s main horticulture crop— apple— has fallen sharply with growers fearing to lose even the input cost.
The growers said that A-grade apple that was sold at Rs 1000 to 1200 per box in the normal times presently fetches a maximum of Rs 700.
Many farmers are yet to sell their last year produce held in cold storages. They are neither able to send their produce to different mandis across the country nor are there any buyers readily available due to intense lockdown.
Ali Mohammad, a grower from Shopian is among hundreds who have stored their last year produce.
He has around 600 boxes of apple of the last year. In normal circumstances, he says, he would have sold them since, but he is a worried man now. “How will I pay for the fertilizers and pesticides that I have used if I am not able to sell the fruit?” he asks.
He has made frantic calls to other growers, enquiring if they have sold their produce but has found that they are facing the same fate.
Although the authorities have eased restrictions for the operators of cold storages, in the absence of buyers and trucks to carry the produce to other stations, farmers feel helpless.
“I have put my apple produce in a CA store for four months for which I have paid Rs 233 per box so far. Besides, I have incurred other costs. And, now an apple box is fetching me Rs 600,” said Ghulam Muhammad of Shopian.
Chairman, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers’ and Dealers’ Union, Bashir Ahmad Basheer said that the demand has plummeted post lockdown.
“We are clearing (selling) our (previous) stock on losses, and after doing that there is no guarantee of getting money from the forwarding agents whom we are sending the produce as they too are complaining about no demand,” he said, adding that the growers are not able to meet even the cost they have incurred.
“In some cases the farmers are not even able to get the amount they have paid to the CA stores.”
A senior government official said that the supplies are being facilitated. “However there is no denying the fact that the demand has come down due to nation-wide lockdown with main markets across the country remaining closed.”
More than two thirds of the national apple production comes from the Valley of Kashmir. Out of the 2.5 million metric tonnes production nationally, about 2 million metric tonnes of apple grow in the Valley alone. Of the 0.31 million hectares under apple cultivation in the country, 0.16 million hectares are in the Kashmir Valley
Apple trade is key to J&K’s economy with an annual turnover pegged at Rs 8,000 crore. As many as 33 lakh families are dependent on the fruit trade.