Apple In Red

4 mins read
(Photo by Yawar Nazir/Getty Images)

Shazia Ambreen

In the backyard of south Kashmir villages, the apple orchards are booming with different varieties of the crop. While some of the apples have already started turning red, in many orchards it will take few weeks before apples reach to its maturity and growers will begin harvesting this season’s produce.

As we pass through interior villages of south Kashmir, the black marks on the apples hanging from the orchards are visible, and easy to gauge the fact that fruit has been engulfed with Scab and Sanjose scale and pesticides sprayed by the growers have failed to stop this disease. Usually, apple growers spray five to nine rounds of different pesticides to save their fruits from different diseases. As per the estimates, the growers spent Rs 500 to 600 crores on fungicides and pesticides every year.

Now this year Kashmir’s fruit industry stares at another loss due to the diseases especially scab which has spread in the orchards across Kashmir and government agencies have failed to prevent the diseases from spreading from one part to another.

Kashmir’s main economy is now directly dependent on fruit and annually Rs 10,000 to 12,000 crores is being generated through the trade of fruit which sustains around 2.5 million populations directly or indirectly. In Kashmir, after the establishment of dozens of cold stores, the fruit season almost lasts for a year. And apples are available even during the lean period.

Of late the attraction towards apple and good money forced many growers and farmers to convert their paddy fields into new apple orchards and the introduction of new varieties like high-density trees was turning to be a game-changer. However, from past two seasons the Valley’s biggest industry is in a red.

Last year after the revocation of Article 370 when the J&K was put under restrictions, the growers could not dispatch their produce to outside state fruit mandies on time and some of the fruit especially perished on way causing huge loss to the growers. To make some additional money, many growers stored their produce in the cold stores with a hope that fruit will reap dividends for them in March and April months but that didn’t happen due to the Covid19 lockdown in March and growers sold their producer of high quality apples in peanuts.

“My relatives had stored hundreds of apple boxes in cold store in December and hoped to get good money in spring. Unfortunately, the COVID struck which caused them huge losses. The apple boxes which they expected will fetch the 1000 to 1200 per box was sold just for 500 to 600 hundred and they suffered heavy loss,” said Showkat Khan a grower from Pulwama. “Same thing happened to other growers who had hoped to earn good money but lost heavily.”

He said he fears many growers won’t store their produce in the cold store. “From two consecutive years the growers are facing losses. This time they will think many times before storing their produce.”

Now Kashmir’s fruit industry stares at another loss due to the diseases especially scab which has spread in the orchards across Kashmir, especially in the apple rich belts of Sopore in north Kashmir and Shopian in south Kashmir.

The outbreak of diseases like scab and San Jose scale has affected the apple yield and growers fear that they will be forced to sell off their harvest as C grade instead of A grade.

“Every orchard is affected by disease. Though we sprayed pesticides time to time, the results have not been encouraging,” said Irshad Ahmad, who owns an apple orchard in Dangerpora of Sopore, known for its high-quality apple varieties in north Kashmir. Sopore is also known as the apple bowl of Kashmir and is home to Asia’s second largest fruit mandi where three crore apple boxes are traded annually.

“This year, the production is half of what we had last year. Our aim now is to save the remaining harvest in the orchards from diseases.”

Another orchardist from Saripora, Farooq Malik said that he used to sell my produce in mid-June, much before harvesting, to commission agents who used to form a beeline. “This time, only one agent approached and offered a mere 30% of last year’s price. This is happening due to the quality of the apples. I have no option but to sell my produce on minimal rates.”

Even the growers who were optimistic lost hope when they didn’t get good money for their stone fruit which is considered as first cash crop of the season.

Parimpora fruit growers’ association president, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, said from August last year, the growers have suffered heavy losses. “Even commission agents and big dealers who used to give advance money to growers have not released payments due to Covid-19, less and inferior fruit,” he said adding that this year’s cherry and plum crops also did not fetch good prices.

However, there are some pockets, especially in south Kashmir’s lower belt, where production is normal and scab has not affected the orchards but majority of growers complained that scab had caused havoc in their orchards “I think the weather and substandard pesticides played a role in the spread of scab across orchards this year. I got pesticides from reputed companies so my orchards are free from the disease,” said Jan Mohammad, a fruit grower from Bandipora.

“First this year we have very less fruit yield and 40 to 50 percent has scab which means we won’t fetch desired rates from the apple this season,” Jan said adding that being dependent on horticulture they have no option but to continue with their business. “Other than upkeep of orchards what else we can do. For us this is bread and butter.”

There is growing clamor that government doesn’t take sale of fake pesticides and fungicides seriously. “Kashmir markets are flooded substandard pesticides that results in spread of scab. The government should take it seriously otherwise many people in Kashmir will lose their livelihood,” said Jan Mohammad.

And time has come government should take this seriously already according to the KCCI have lost 40,000 crores in last year due to situation and thousands lost jobs. We can’t see this flourishing trade on which majority of our rural economy is dependent becoming victim of sub standard pesticides. The government should crack the whip on the people who are selling spurious pesticides to gullible farmers and growers before it’s too late.

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