Srinagar: Horticulture in Kashmir, which generates Rs 10,000 crore in revenue a year and is the backbone of J&K’s economy, is in desperate need of help as a result of the transportation crisis and low pricing that have endangered the livelihood of nearly 8 lakh people who work in this industry.
According to fruit traders, roadwork has prevented thousands of trucks from travelling on Kashmir's main route carrying millions of dollars worth of apples, leading to complaints from farmers as their harvest starts to spoil.
The Srinagar-Jammu highway, which connects the area to the rest of the country, was experiencing significant delays due to highway renovations, resulting in significant estimated losses.
“Numerous apple-carrying vehicles were getting stuck along the national highway, particularly close to the 20 km stretch between Qazigund and Banihal, which has been the source of complaints of the fruit growers,” they said.
Fruit growers protested in Srinagar’s Press Enclave and in several fruit mandis to draw attention to the mismanagement.
Chairman of Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Dealers Union, Bashir Ahmad Basheer told Greater Kashmir that since a few weeks ago, authorities have been stopping fruit-carrying vehicles along the Srinagar-Jammu highway for days together, causing losses as fresh fruits rot on the highway and when the fruit growers sell it in the markets, they receive less money because it has typically started to rot.
“Until yesterday, 8000 trucks carrying apples worth Rs 100 crore were stuck on the national highway, but today we met IGP Traffic and other officials, and they told us that 4000 vehicles have moved towards Jammu and the remaining will be allowed to move by Monday evening. Kashmir's fruit industry is suffering from two problems at once because the government has failed to help it,” Basheer said.
“Our apple was already fetching poor prices due to the invasion of untaxed Iranian apples into Indian markets. Now, this year, we are suffering another problem with transportation which is adding to the losses. If the situation remains the same, the growers will cease growing apples.”
Talking to Greater Kashmir, President of Sopore Fruit Mandi, Fayaz Ahmad said that it seemed that there was a deliberate attempt to inflict economic losses on Kashmir’s economy.
“Fruits coming from outside the country reach Delhi within three days while it takes us more than a week to transport the fruit. Down traffic from Jammu is allowed smoothly, but fruit-carrying trucks from Kashmir are halted unnecessarily. We are suffering losses since last year due to the influx of Iranian apples. Although our production this year was good the transportation crisis has played a spoilsport,” Ahmad said.
He said every day, 250 to 300 trucks leave Sopore mandi only to get stranded at a distance of 100 km at Qazigund.
“Due to the poor management of the authorities incharge of guaranteeing efficient traffic flow on the highway, apple growers were suffering significant losses. The fruit begins to rot by the time our produce reaches the mandis,” Ahmad said.
According to him, fruit picking in orchards has been postponed until the situation with the traffic is handled.
“We are seeing this catastrophe on the national highway for the first time,” he said.
To protect the industry from the Iranian invasion, internet users have started the ‘Save Kashmir Apple’ campaign, encouraging people to buy and eat fruit grown nearby.
The horticultural sector in Kashmir is doomed as a result of cheaper Iranian imports and increased packaging expenses.
Netizens are pushing people to save the fruit industry on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
“Our economy is at risk, Kashmir. I advise all Kashmiris to purchase at least one apple carton for their homes. Maybe this will help boost demand,” Ajaz Ahmad wrote on Facebook. “Guess if our students are eating apples instead of potato chips and other unhealthy food. We will be doing our country a big favour in many areas, from health to economy.”
As per the government figures, 7.5 lakh families or a population of 35 lakh are involved in this sector.
It is the main employment generation sector with each hectare of orchard generating 400 man-days per year of employment. In India, the total apple production is approximately about 28 lakh MTs and of which 20 lakh MTs are produced from J&K.
The Rs 10,000 crore worth market of apples is changing the lives of 30 lakh people connected with the sector.
According to official figures, the area under cultivation of fruits in J&K increased from 2.21 lakh hectares in 2001 to 3.33 lakh hectares, registering an increase of 1.22 lakh hectares in two decades.