Horticulture sector has emerged as a backbone of Kashmir’s economy contributing a revenue of around 8000 crores, involving 33 lakh individual workforce at various phases of harvesting, processing, storage and distribution. Apple harvest contributes to the major chunk of the horticulture economy. The production of apples as per 2019-20 data has crossed 2 million metric tonnes making India as the 5th largest apple producing country in the world. However unlike improved productivity of harvest the growth in the processing and storage has remained stagnant. Most of the apples are sold for fresh eating purpose and very little goes into processing and storage. In contrast to the developed economies such as New York which is the second largest apple producing state in the United States, only half of the production is being utilised for fresh eating and about half goes into processing juices, sauce, pie fillings etc. In Poland as high as 58% of the harvested apples are used for processing. The apples are processed into juices (clear, cloudy, pureed, concentrated), cider, flavouring components, mousse, purees, dried, freeze dried (lyophilized apples) and frozen peeled apples.
The processing operations not only brings value addition but can generate a lot of employment potential to the economy. There is a need to raise the processing industry by means of start-ups and investments made into these sectors to a level where at least half of the production is utilized to develop these value added products. Value addition through processing is also one of the ways Kashmir’s economy can contribute to doubling farmers income. One major hindrance in the processing of apples is maintaining the availability throughout the year. Storage capacity has been in deficiency despite the efforts put by various governments in recent times to develop cold storage facilities. A strong apple economy needs to be backed by a robust storage infrastructure. Around one third of the produce is not utilised due to post harvest losses owing to lack of adequate storage facility. Poland which produced about 2.5 million metric tonnes of apple last year has a cold storage capacity of 1.5 million tonnes while Turkey which is the 3rd largest apple producer has a storage capacity of 1 million metric tonnes for a average production of 3 million metric tonnes. Kashmir with a storage capacity of 0.1 million tonnes is far from even being closer having only 5% storage capacity as compared to 50% for Poland and 33% for turkey. The cold storage infrastructure further needs to be expanded. Facilities need to be adapted in utilising the controlled atmospheric (CA) conditions. Apples are stored under a standard CA (Oxygen concentration of 2-3% , CO2 from 2-5%). New cold storage warehouses need to be developed based on modern low oxygen technologies (eg ILOS, DCA, DCS, swinglos, ACTR etc) augmented with suitable post harvest treatment such as 1 Methyl Cyclo propane (1-MCP) which enables the harvest to be stored for a period of upto 12 months while maintaining their high quality. Such practices could always come handy even in these unprecedented COVID times where you need to store your harvest for a longer duration for inability to access transportation and avoid losses. Apple industry by integrating these techno-economic solutions in processing and storage can bloom further and bring in the much needed pink revolution in the region.
Shafat Ahmad Khan is Assistant Professor, Department of Food technology IUST Awantipora, J&K