Cherry trees are full of delicious fruit but despite that farmers are staring at massive losses due to limited demand amid the Covid-19 crisis this year. Even as Kashmir has witnessed a bumper cherry crop this year, the growers are a distressed lot due to low demand and fall in the prices of the cherry.
There are four types of cherries in Kashmir- Awwal Number, Double, Mishri and Makhmali. The latter two are exported to other states. Cherries are extremely perishable with a very brief shelf-life.
Ganderbal district in central Kashmir is one of the highest producing districts of Cherry, the first domestic fruit to enter market. Ganderbal district with approximately around 1200 hectares of land under it, is considered to be the hub of the cherry crop as the district produces approximately 60% of the total production of this delicious fruit in Kashmir valley.
At an estimate around five thousand people (growers) are associated with it. Areas where the cherry is grown in Ganderbal district and was in its bloom include Chunt Waliwar, Gulabpora, Lar, Gutlibagh, Wakura, Dab, Batwina and some areas of Kangan.
However, this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a bumper crop the growers across Kashmir and particularly in Ganderbal district are in distress because of the want of market.
The cherry growers in one of the highest producing districts of Kashmir, in Ganderbal district are complaining about the lack of marketing for their cherry crop this year due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
According to the growers here, as compared to previous years the cherry production was good this time, however the COVID lockdown and restrictions have shattered the hopes of the growers.
“Despite a good produce, growers are worried a lot due to decrease in demand in view of closure of markets and difficulties in transporting fruit from farms to the markets amid Covid-19 restrictions, adding that many of the growers have left the crop on the trees without harvesting” said Abdul Rehman Dar, a cherry grower from Wakura Ganderbal.
As per the growers, one variety of Cherry Crop s known as Double Cherry and this entire variety is lifted by factory owners for canning, but all these factory owners are restricted leaving no hope for poor cherry growers to sell their produce. Similarly, tin manufacturing industries are also closed in view of restrictions as the tins are essentially required for canning of double cherry. Packing material (Bardhana) is also not available in and outside J&K in view of complete restrictions.
Double Gilass, the main cherry variety grown in Kashmir is facing the problem of plenty, which has resulted in the decline of prices by as much as upto 60 percent, when compared with the last year.
Growers also talk about the brief shelf life of the fruit. According to Dar “Cherries are extremely perishable with a very brief shelf-life. So we are fearing huge losses due to the present situation.”
“This year we were hoping to get a profit from the cherry crop, however, now we are facing losses as the market is down and we are not getting the good rates and many are not seeing any buyers for the crop” Dar added. He said a box of double cherry is fetching only Rs 20 to Rs 30 which is even less than its production cost.
The government should intervene and come to the rescue of these growers.
A senior official of horticulture department here said that the department is aware of the issues faced by the growers this year, adding that they have apprised the higher authorities about the same.
“All possible efforts are being made to ensure that cherry growers don’t suffer, adding that a meeting was held with the Advisor KK Sharma in this regard and are finding ways to help them out,” he said.