Why cashmere growers want the government to ban imported apples

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(MENAFN Kashmir Observer)

A Kashmir grower sprays pesticides on his apple crop.

As the apple harvest season approaches in Kashmir, growers want the government to step up and secure markets for their cash crop.

Through Bisma Farooq

INSIDE his large orchard, nestled near the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad expressway in Baramulla district, Bashir Khan regards his apple-laden trees with palpable pessimism.

While he’s committed to having his profitable crop hit the market in September, he’s not very hopeful about good returns.

“We have met the union minister, sent SOS to the prime minister and even alerted the administration, but nothing comes to our rescue,” says Bashir, an apple grower in his 50s from Baramulla.

“Since the government has not heeded our requests, there is now only one solution. Let them do like Russia because the Prime Minister wants us to stand up for the locals.”

With Russia banning all imported fruit to encourage local produce, cashmere growers want the government to follow suit and secure markets for local apple growers across India.

“If that’s not possible,” says Bashir with a thoughtful look, “then the government should impose 100 percent import duties on Iranian apples.”

The case of Iranian apples eating up the market share of Kashmiri apples was first raised in September 2021 when growers from the valley met the Union Agriculture Minister in Srinagar.

Iranian apple that has become an apple of discord in Kashmir.

During the meeting with Narender Singh Tomar, the growers said that a certain – “unchecked” – market penetration will destroy the backbone of Kashmir’s economy if not addressed in time.

Tomar promised “dynamic change” amid growing apple fears in Kashmir.

But before meeting him, representatives of Kashmir’s biggest jobs engine had written a letter to the PMO, informing it of duty-free dumping of Iranian apples arriving in India via Afghanistan and Dubai.

“This situation has put the entire fruit industry in both J&K (UT) and Himachal Pradesh in a very precarious position as it has eaten away our market share,” reads the letter, a copy of which is held by the Kashmir Observer.

The letter states that India is one of the world’s largest apple producers and that around 70 percent of households in Jammu and Kashmir depend directly or indirectly on the sector.

“There are more than 1.5 million cases of apple products stored in various cold stores,” the letter said. “Similarly, there are another 1.50 million cases of apples in warehouses owned by small and marginal growers who expect the harvest season to be over. In addition, the stored produce will achieve a fair process in the market.”

The fruit growers urged the PM to restrict the flow of Iranian apples to India.

But two months after Tomar’s pledge, Iranian apples began flooding markets across India and unsettling local growers. As these imported apples cost less, they took over the market and began hitting local growers hard.

Almost a year after meeting the union’s agriculture minister, Mohammed Sideeq from Sopore is sitting at the gate of his orchard. He roughly estimates the expenses for pesticides, fertilizers, crates, labour, transport and storage and realizes that he will not even get back the money spent.

“We now get a much lower price for our apples,” Sideeq regrets. “It’s because of the imported apples. I don’t know how to pay my loan that I took out for apple production.”

During his visit to Kashmir, the Union Agriculture Minister had also said that the valley is “an important region standing shoulder to shoulder in the country’s progress and development towards self-reliance”.

But the letter, sent to his Delhi office, had conveyed a lingering threat to that “self-reliance”.

“The imported fruit will hit the horticultural sector of Kashmir by lowering the rate and demand,” it said. “It will affect not only the seven lakh families of Kashmir, but numerous families across the country.”

An apple orchard in Kashmir

With the new harvest season just around the corner, the impact of free-flowing imports in Budgam districts is already clearly visible.

As they wait to harvest their “labor of love,” growers instill a sense of unhappiness. The festive mood of harvest time is also missing.

“What would you do with this bumper crop if you didn’t have a market available,” says Rahim Bhat, an apple grower from Budgam. “We stare at the grim situation that has literally put our very survival at risk.”

The same concern comes from Kashmir’s Apple Bowl – Shopian.

As growers prepare for the upcoming harvest season, the market blues are leaving many unsatisfied.

“The changed market organization is discouraging,” says Kaiser Mir, a young grower. “We cannot supply all of our production to the limited local market like we tried to do last year. Losing the domestic market to these Iranian apples is a huge blow to us.”

Apple cultivation and its value chain is one of the mainstays of the rural economy with revenues of around Rs. 1500 crores. The productivity of apples is currently around 11 MT/hectare compared to over 40 MT/hectare in Italy, Chile, France etc.

“Since this import problem is also hurting Uttrakhand and Shimla’s revenues,” says Mudasir Ahmad, president of the Kashmir Buyers’ Association, “we want the government to tax these apples 100 percent so that our own production doesn’t lose out on the market.”

The domestic market, says Mudasir, should initially be reserved for local producers and buyers.

The same concern comes from Bashir Khan’s highway orchard, where he inspects his crops.

“The government is taking initiatives to increase production, but if there is no market for the same production, it can only ruin the horticultural industry,” he says.

“It’s time to adopt the Kremlin model to secure the rights of domestic growers.”

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