Stone-Fruits of Kashmir

Amidst the jackpot crop production and wealthy speculations, all is not well with its current market value and continuous price fluctuations
"In Kashmir, horticulture sector plays a pivotal role in sustaining major annual income source, employment and economic prosperity and the total cultivated area is 158499 ha (75.45%) under fresh fruits."
"In Kashmir, horticulture sector plays a pivotal role in sustaining major annual income source, employment and economic prosperity and the total cultivated area is 158499 ha (75.45%) under fresh fruits."Special arrangement

BY AAQIB JAVID DAR

While walking through the ambient lush-green horticulture fields here in Kashmir, one can fervently observe the ardent bumper crop of colourful stone fruits hanging low with their fresh fruity fragrance ripening and getting ready for harvest.

This year, the crop seems abundant and in turn corroborate for the boom of other apple varieties next to be harvested in the upcoming months. As first in line for the harvest, these fruits pave the way for commercial activities of growers and sellers by finding their way into the local mandis where auction per packaged box slowly catches the pace.

But amidst the jackpot crop production and wealthy speculations, all is not well with its current market value and continuous price fluctuations.

An overview

India is the 2nd largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world after China and as per the estimates of National Horticulture Database published by National Horticulture Board, during 2019-20, India produced an overwhelming 99.07 million metric tonnes of fruits.

During 2020-21, India exported fruits of different varieties worth 9,940.95 crores and subsequently during 2021, it imported fruits of worth 168.17 billion in Indian rupees.

Ever since the advent of COVID-19 outbreak in India, the demand for fresh fruits especially stone fruits and their products tremendously increased due to numerous health benefits and as an excellent source of vitamin C, K, E, and B6 with additional anti-oxidant benefits.

In Kashmir, horticulture sector plays a pivotal role in sustaining major annual income source, employment and economic prosperity and the total cultivated area is 158499 ha (75.45%) under fresh fruits.

According to reports, in 2018-19 the total production of 2145490 MT produced from the Kashmir valley, of which 1940250 MT (90.43%) are fresh fruits.

Bottlenecks

Despite good varieties of peach, plum, cherry, apricot, and green almond, grown strenuously in Kashmir, the post-harvest scenario is unpleasant to growers en masse. well, pondering upon the problems, there are certain factors responsible: Firstly, due to substandard and toxic chemical sprays applied for fast ripening and colour allurement, harvested crops fall prey to the very short shelf life and in turn leads to coercion sales of the stock at local mandis as growers fear the fast-rotting tendencies of harvested stock.

Here they saw, haste makes no waste! Inquiring about the current prices of plums per packaged box at Fruit Mandi Sopore, a grower reported to have sold as low as 80 rupees per box weighing 5 kg incurring huge loss, even not able to cover the basic expenditure including packing material cost, transportation cost, and labour cost. Other stone fruits, post-harvest also find the same fate.

Secondly, applied chemicals and pesticides on them have an impinge on local consumers trepidation of health problems like diarrhoea, intestinal discomfort masking their health benefits.

Thirdly, transportation time taken to sell at the high consumption demand destination like Delhi, Maharashtra etc the along the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway and nowadays the continuous movement of Amarnath pilgrims hinders the movement of fruit laden trucks.

Additionally, high summer temperature in Indian plains while carrying these fruits in trucks add more to the worries of associated business fraternity indulged in this sector fearing major portion rotten down before reaching the destination.

Need for transformation

As pessimism never won any battle, we still have revolutionary optimism at our door steps to realise and utilise the untapped boon of nature in the form of these glossy fruits.

What exactly we need is to transform our approach and start exploring 21st century business opportunities. By switching to secondary processing and not just selling them as good riddance, initiatives and awareness of cutting-edge secondary processing of this foodstuff at local level with minimal capital expenditure can be established with the implementation of highly sophisticated scientific techniques.

Some of them being Drying (oldest and cheap method of preservation), osmotic dehydration (partial removal of water by dipping into sugar syrup), processing of lesser utilised fruits for therapeutic value.

Formation of value addition products like jellies, fruit juice, carbonated juices, canning, pickle, chutney and sauce making, fruit jams, candies and preserves, beverages like squashes, ready to serve (RTS) drinks and appetiser, fermented products.

Also, by product waste utilisation techniques like pomace, seed oil for food and cosmetic purposes. high fibre biscuits, citrus peel products for cosmetics. Development of integrated pre- and post-harvest treatment protocol (irrigation, water and chemical spray, Ethylene management).

Most importantly, better coordination of stone-fruit growers with Agriculture and Horticulture universities of Kashmir for world-class research and development enhanced continuous monitoring at each level starting from plantation up to final processed goods with active role of Governmental departments for brand promotion and interconnection demand and supply.

Kashmir is world famous for its products of natural goods and stone-fruit items as processed goods perfectly add some more varieties to it and subsequently provide untapped market for jobs creation and income generation at different levels, directly or indirectly.

We need to lay down a network of small and medium enterprises and in turn supply chains for these processed stone-fruit goods to local cafes, restaurants, tourist interaction places to promote these items for sale in a very unique way with the aura of Kashmir intact, same as Switzerland processes milk into dairy products.

Aaqib Javid Dar, MSc Bioinformatics, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi

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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