The apple of our eye

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Mian Tufail

KASHMIR, right now, is a picture of wholesome abundance. Wherever your glance goes, the Valley is laced with fruits and a rich whiff of almonds.

Besides cuisine and hospitality, Kashmir is synonymous with apples. The apple industry provides huge employment to the locals here.

The apple industry was in ruins post the 2014 floods but is now enjoying a boost with the market available both domestically and globally. Presently, people associated with the industry are busy harvesting apples with the hope and aspirations of a bumper production. The varieties being harvested include Gala Mast, Scarlet, King Roat, Scarlet Spur, Red Velox, Jeromine besides others.

  • The apple of the Valley’s eye

Typically, the apple season in Kashmir starts mid-October and goes till November. However, the high-density apple crop is being harvested earlier this year than expected and obviously, the growers are brimming with enthusiasm. The losses of the previous years are expected to be compensated for this year, thanks to the demand and minimal calamities.

Tariq Ahmad Bhat, an apple grower from Sopore, informs Kashmir Central that the prices in the market go up initially and then stay constant before a drastic fall later. Says he, “Last year, the production was high but the demand subsided in the market. This year, the production is normal but an unexpected surge in the market has raised our hopes of good returns. Yes, hailstorm has ruined the crop at the higher reaches but the Sopore region is expecting a smooth harvest of fresh fruits without any damage”.

Tariq further adds, “We are eagerly waiting for the market prices to go up so that we may get good returns. We are observing the marketing strategies very keenly and pray for an upward trend in the market prices. Moreover, we want government’s intervention and are expecting its support in normalising the markets in our favour. It’s been known that apples are imported from Iran at a lower rate, which badly affects the indigenous crop and these Iranian apples are being imported first to Afghanistan and rebranded as Afghanistani apples. Since India and Afghanistan have a zero-import duty agreement, these apples are not taxed. When you don’t tax the imported fruit, the local industry is bound to crumble”.

  • Cold storage: Bring it on

With less number of cold storages available, the fruit is packed and immediately transported to other state fruit mandis for good returns. Although, a fleet of cold storages has been established in Jammu and Kashmir but currently, they are not enough as per the demand. “The government must intervene and outsource cold storage facilities to the private players. It will help establish large fleets and growers will benefit to preserve their fruit for large durations and release it into the market during good demand. Cold storage facility will also help towards a longer shelf life of apples which could then remain available across the year,” adds he.

According to Aashiq Shangloo, vice president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the total growth of the apple industry in Kashmir is 20 metric tonnes. Shangloo says, “In the harvesting season, when we would produce 20,000 metric tonnes of apple, it would hit the market all at the same time as there was no facility for storage. However, the government is now providing incentives, benefiting the whole industry especially growers.”

Fayaz Ahmad Malik from Sopore Mandi, who recently won the fifth consecutive election as president of the mandi, says that the apple industry has grown by leaps and bounds and the mandi is fulfilling a major chunk of demand in the country. During his winning speech, Malik is reported to have said: “The apple industry is a major sector of Jammu and Kashmir with around 70% population directly associated with it. We work in corroboration with the local government here to remove the hindrances in this sector. We had demanded to the government to pave a smooth passage for apple trucks on the highway and we thank the government for working tirelessly on our demands”.

  • The blessing called MIP

Recognising the plight of J&K apple growers and the need to protect their interests, the central government has taken a proactive step by introducing the Minimum Import Price (MIP) for apples. By imposing import taxes, the government aims to discourage the influx of foreign apples and provide a fair market for the produce grown by J&K farmers.
This policy mandates that any apple costing less than Rs 50 per kg cannot be imported, providing a much-needed boost to the local apple industry, thus effectively levelling the playing field for the local farmers.

The introduction of MIP brings several benefits to the apple growers of J&K. Firstly, it will help stabilise apple prices in the local market by reducing the oversupply of cheap imported apples. This stability will allow local farmers to fetch better prices for their produce, thereby improving their profitability and income.
Additionally, the MIP will boost the overall morale of the apple farming community, as they will no longer have to fear losing their market share to imported apples that enjoy an unfair price advantage.

The government issued an order on May 8 stating that “in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 read with Section 5 of the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992, read with para 1.02 and 2.01 of the Foreign Trade Policy 2023, as amended from time to time, the Central Government hereby ITC (HS), 2022, amends the import policy position under ITC (HS) 08081000 of Chapter-08 of Schedule-I (Import Policy)”.

According to the new Import Policy of India, the import of apples under ITC (HS) 08081000 is now ‘prohibited’ where the CIF import value is equal to or less than Rs 50 per kg.

Horticulture is the economic backbone of Kashmir. The youth are getting attracted to the apple industry. These educated youth taking up the fruit trading business will boost the economy of the region. Intermittent intervention by the government to compensate for natural losses and clearing bottlenecks in the sector will diminish the destructive gaps.

Apple, being the apple of the Valley’s eye, is a money-puller and this industry must be supported while facing its varied odds.

 

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