Inside a large Controlled Atmosphere ( CA) storage unit in Lassipora industrial area of Pulwama, some 40 kms south of Srinagar, scores of apple cultivators and traders are busy packing apples for transportation to outstation mandis with their faces betraying a sense of distress. 

Even after eight months of last harvesting season, around 15 to 20 percent of the produce is still lying in different CA storages across Kashmir. 

During the peak harvesting season in October and November, hundreds of cultivators and traders stored their produce in CA storages, anticipating better prices later on. However, a surge in apple imports from Washington, Iran and South Africa led to a price crash, spurring the farmers to further prolong their storage period. 

“ Now as markets did not improve much, we are forced to sell our produce for a song even after waiting for 8 months”, said Aijaz Ahmad, a fruit grower. 

Izhan Javed, a spokesperson of the J&K Fruit and Vegetable Processing and Integrated Cold Chain Association (JKPICCA) told businessline that over 50,000 metric tonnes of apples are still lying in different CA storages.

Additional costs 

Both cultivators and traders are facing a double whammy : one the produce fetches them low prices and second they have to incur high storage charges. 

“We found ourselves in a strange financial bind. Many of us are unable to recoup even the input costs, let alone the profits”, said Peer Mohammad Amin, a well-heeled apple trader and president of Fruit Fruit Mandi Shopian.

The CA storages charge ₹1.99 per kg of apples per month. The cultivators who stored their harvest last October now face paying over ₹300 as storage charge for each apple crate, weighing 17 kgs. 

According to apple traders, they purchased an apple crate for ₹1200 last September and the current market prices are at least 20 percent lower.  

“After deducting the storage charges, we suffer a loss of over ₹500 per apple crate”, said a group of distressed apple traders. 

Attributing the price slump to a glut of apples imported from Washington, Iran and South Africa, they estimated the losses at ₹400 crores. 

In the absence of big corporate houses, the apple industry is a primary economic driver in the region. Around 3.5 million people in Jammu and Kashmir are directly or indirectly relying on the apple industry for their livelihood. However, since 2018 the industry has been grappling with huge losses on multiple counts including climate change, scrapping of additional duty on Washington apples and frequent closure of Jammu-Srinagar Jammu National Highway. 

Demand for MIS

As apple cultivators continue to face substantial losses, the clamour for the introduction of  Market Intervention Scheme( MIS) has intensified. Last year, the apple farmers from apple producing states of the country came together and formed Apple Farmers’ Federation of India (AFFI). The federation held its first national conference in Kashmir and MIS was one of its key demands. 

Zahoor Ahmad Rather, president AFFI, J&K said that the MIS is crucial to save the apple economy, particularly the small farmers. 

“To alleviate the financial distress of farmers, we urge the government to roll out the MIS ”, he added.