Apple growers in crisis, who to blame?

Apple industry is presently witnessing an unimaginable price crash, affecting livelihood at a massive scale, with no state intervention
"This opens avenues for ways for corruption and black marketing. The end result of which is farmer has to pay abnormal charges for availing the storage facility."
"This opens avenues for ways for corruption and black marketing. The end result of which is farmer has to pay abnormal charges for availing the storage facility." File: Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

BY JAVID MAJEED PANDITH, ARSHID HUSSAIN PEER and MUNEEB YOUSUF

As per Press Information Bureau, this year Jammu and Kashmir saw record number of tourists. Surely, tourism industry runs scores of hearths in Kashmir, however, there is another industry, whose size is much bigger providing livelihood to whooping 45 lakh population.

This industry is presently witnessing what could be argued as unimaginable price crash, affecting livelihood of common masses, with no state intervention. While tourism sector contributes nearly six percent to the state GDP, apple farming contributes around eight percent to the state GDP.

Apart from this, the backward and forward linkages of this sector makes it the barometer of Jammu and Kashmir economy. According to Professor Nisar Ali, “tourism sector is being given unnecessary hype. Essentially, horticulture sector is the backbone of J&K economy and nearly 18 lakh metric tons of fresh fruits and 2 lakh metric tons of dry fruits  are produced annually”.

Apple growers in Kashmir valley are on the roads to express their simmering anger due to price crash and infrastructural bottlenecks. The sector has been in crisis due to increasing costs of inputs, climate change and more recently increase in supply due to favorable import policy.

As per East Fruit information and analytics platform for the growth of the horticulture business, the volume of apple import by India has doubled and exceeded 400 metric ton (Mt) for the first time during the 2020-21.

The previous best was in the 2016/17 when imports were around 357 Mt. The season of massive apple imports by India lasts from March to July. From rest of the seasons, the volume of imports remains very low due to the presence of large volumes of India’s home-grown inexpensive apples.

The main production is concentrated in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. With infrastructural development particularly cold storages the length of season for domestic production is expect to increase.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the apple production is mainly concentrated in few districts of Kashmir valley. Out of  2.1- 2.9 million tons of apples grown in India annually around 75 percent of comes from Kashmir valley. Of late the sector is losing its sheen and there is lots of blame to go around. The sector is under stress at multiple levels.

Here we will discuss what in our view are the main factors responsible for the same. The production has increased mostly due to increase in area under production.

This is substantiated by the fact that Jammu & Kashmir has second largest area under apple cultivation in the world. But the irony is that, it is not even the largest producer in Asia. Nonetheless, the productivity is an issue.

While exploring the data from 2010-2021, it is found, the area under apple production has increased consistently barring 2015-16, but the production has fluctuated. The productivity has been hovering over 10-11Mt/hectare, while as the global average is 15Mt/hectare. Such a variation in production is a worrying sign in realizing the profitable outcome for the farmers.

Over the recent past, the use of pesticides has increased considerably to save the harvest from many diseases. This in turn gives rise to the sale of substandard fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides.

Besides adding to the input costs, the use of these chemicals has made the apple trees prone to diseases. This reflects the failure on the part of government of not performing regulatory role.

The asymmetry of information on the part of farmers regarding sustainable practices further aggravates the problem. The input cost has been increasing  in Kashmir due to conventional orchard management. The percentage of grade–A apples per tree is between 40-50 percent. The farmer with a view to maximize short run profits resorts to manipulation in grading.

A study by Central Institute of Post-harvest Engineering and Technology have found the post-harvest loss of apples around 10.39% which is second highest in fruits after guava. The loss of around 30% of production at different stages due to non-availability of CA stores or closure of National Highway further aggravate the miseries of small growers.

The availability of cold storage is important for prevention of distress sale. The storage also holds key in the case of Kashmir valley due to frequent closure of national highway. As per the government estimates, the installed capacity of controlled atmosphere (CA) storage is around 2 lakh metric tons but the demand is around 5 lakh metric tons.

Though there has been an improvement in the CA facilities. However, demand still outpaces the supply by a very high margin. This opens avenues for ways for corruption and black marketing. The end result of which is farmer has to pay abnormal charges for availing the storage facility.

In the aftermath of abrogation of Article -370, the Government of India came up with a Special Market Intervention Scheme (SMIS) with a view to procure produce at remunerative prices. However, the scheme did not get any encouraging response from growers.

The fruit growers did not want to damage age-old social and economic ties they developed with the business rest of India. There were reports that the agency responsible for the same sold the apples in Azadpur mandi which affected market prices.

Here, the government needs to actively engage growers so that they will not view every move of the government with suspicion.

The favorable import policy of government of India has led to flooding of Indian market and sometimes through unfair trade practices such as under invoicing. For example, a box (16 kg) of apple was usually sold at an average rate ranging from Rs 1,200-1,400 or more.

A box of apples from Iran weighing 10 kg is sold between Rs 600-850 in India, giving tough competition to then local produce. The same quantity of apple from Kashmir or Himachal Pradesh is sold at Rs 900-1,100. This has resulted in slump in the trade of the domestic produce.

The intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) regarding India notes that intensity and frequency of heavy rainfall events are projected to be on the rise.

Further the rising temperature will lead to increased frequency and intensity of extreme events including heat waves and heavy rainfall. Thus, as a whole agriculture is going to be drastically affected by global warming. 

The impact of climate change on apple industry has been visible in recent years. The frequency of snowfall, hail storms and gusty winds has increased in recent years which has negatively impacted the apple production. In 2018, the untimely snowfall uprooted trees and as per the estimates of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce the industry suffered the losses of 500 crores.

In 2021, again the early snowfall damaged both the apple crop and apple trees. Though the Horticulture department had issued the advisory but could do so only four days prior to snowfall. This highlights the lack of technical capabilities of the department.

The same needs to be upgraded to mitigate the impact of climate change. There is also the need for adoption of climate resilient farming methods. For this, there is need to nudge the farmers for same by incentivizing them

The apple production has been increasing in the country. However, it has not translated into enhanced income for growers.

Nonetheless, there is a plenty of blame to go around. In order to enhance the income of apple growers, there is need to address the infrastructural bottlenecks, technical upgradation of capabilities of horticultural staff, improvement in market intelligence system, branding and government need to regulate the pesticides.

Further, there is also a need for reducing the layers in supply chain by necessary ICT intervention. We suggest government need to explore the co-operative farming, strengthen farmer produce organizations and incentivize establishment of fruit processing units.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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