“We Need 100 To 150 More CA Stores In Kashmir”
“More Govt Support Essential To Strengthen Horticulture Sector”
Bashir Ahmad Basheer
Chairman, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Union
President, The New Kashmir Fruit Association
There are about 50 Controlled Atmosphere (CA) Stores in Kashmir. But we need about 100 to 150 more CA stores.
The government gave incentives and 50 per cent subsidy to people to open CA stores. The Horticulture Department created awareness about it. In Shopian, the government provided land to the investors to who wanted to open CA stores.
These measures have helped apple growers in the valley. Even now, the practice of keeping apples in the godowns continues in Kashmir.
Earlier, imported apples used to come to Kashmir via the LOC trade. Now they come via Delhi, Mumbai. In CA stores, the apples are kept in the same condition in which we harvest them.
The highest production of apples is in north Kashmir. We have five to six CA stores there. In north Kashmir, the apple trees are many years old. In south Kashmir, we have more high-density trees, which are the new variety. These were provided by the government.
Now we have started getting their harvest. In the coming years, they shall yield even higher harvest.
People prefer imported apples because the production technology is far ahead of us. They use better fertilizers, better pesticides. Hence their products are better. The farmers abroad also have higher government support.
Most Growers Have Small Land-Holdings:
In Kashmir, 95 pc growers are marginal growers. Most orchards are of two kanals to 10 kanals. We have only about 5 per cent farmers who own 50 kanals to over 300 kanals. Land was always restricted in Kashmir. Over the generations and with the land division among children in every generation, the land holdings are becoming smaller and smaller.
But even with all these restrictions, we need to have better technology for apple production. Horticulture is the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. We don’t have advanced technology which can match the transport and storage of imported apples.
That is where we suffer. During the season, our apple is the best. It is the most juicy and fresh crop, and very healthy. But after the season is over, we have to store our produce in CA stores so that the apples remain crisp.
Over the years, our storage capacity in CA stores has increased. Production is high, and the number of CA stores is far lesser than what we need. Going by the current rate of production, we need about 100 to 150 more CA stores.
To serve the areas of north Kashmir, we have five to six stores. They are able to store some part of the apple production from Sopore, Baramulla, Handwara and adjoining areas.
In south Kashmir, we have about 45 CA stores in Shopian and Lassipora. An industrial area was created there and land was provided for CA stores on concessional rates.
If the government helps us in setting up more CA stores, we shall have higher holding capacity for our apple harvest. We shall be able to provide the best apples to the market. But if we lack enough CA stores, then how can we compete with imported apples? The post-harvest management of our apple crop will suffer if we do not have the technological support that we need.
We Need Trees Of Higher Quality
We also need trees of higher quality. In north Kashmir, many orchards are 50 to 60 years old, though some are new. Himachal Pradesh has planted more high-density trees than Kashmir. If we are able to plant a higher number of high-density trees, we to shall be able to bring better quantity and quality of apples to the market.
Abroad, the growers are big. There, each and every field is connected to small or big CA stores. Their apples are sent to CA stores the day they are harvested. They are transported in CA vehicles and they reach distribution centers in a protected manner. In this way, the entire value chain is protected.
A part of our harvest reaches CA stores. But we don’t have the facility of CA vehicles or huge CA containers for transporting our produce. Is maamle mein hum majboor hain.
In 2021, apple production in Kashmir was 20-22 lakh metric tonnes (MT) approximately. The capacity of one CA store is 5000 MT approximately. We have only about 50 CA stores. So you can imagine how many more we need.
We don’t have adequate holding capacity, so the fruit from Kashmir sells best when it sells as a fresh seasonal fruit in the market.
Govt Must Restrict Import. Otherwise Local Growers Suffer
Iran faced sanctions. Hence fruit was available there at lower rates. But Iranian apples entered the Indian market through the sea routes in large numbers, and at very low rates. They killed our market.
Our production costs are increasing daily. We have to pay high cost for manual labour, pesticides, fertilizers. But this is not all. We face challenges like scab, hailstorm, sub-standard pesticides. The technology available to apple producers abroad is far ahead of the technological support available to us. The government must restrict import of fruits, otherwise our local farmers shall suffer very much
More Investment Needed In Apple Technology
The apple farmers of Himachal Pradesh have invested more in apple technology. They have shown greater degree of enthusiasm towards personal efforts in quality upgradation.
At the same time, we have to admit that the Kashmir farmers have kept the horticulture crop in the Valley thriving despite immense challenges. They have done their jobs through turmoil and conflict. At times, farmers cannot go to their fields for spray of fertilizers or pesticides, because the local situation is so bad.
Govt Should Take Teams Of Farmers Abroad For Exposure To New Technologies
At times, some individual apple farmers have taken the initiative to go abroad to learn of new techniques in apple farming. Some local investors went abroad to study the Controlled Atmosphere (CA) technology available there.
The Horticulture Department should also take teams abroad to give international exposure to farmers.
Since the last two to three years, there is greater enthusiasm among farmers to grow high-density apple trees. Fruit growers are also focusing on this. The problem is that we have to saw down old orchards to plant new ones.
Climate Change Is Impacting Us
In March this year, the temperature was five to six degrees higher. We can observe the average temperature rising every year. This shall impact the apple crop. The fruits shall ripen early.
Cherry used to ripen by mid May earlier. This year it got ready by mid April. Apple will also get ready for harvesting earlier than usual. The competition with Himachal Pradesh shall increase.
Suppose the market has capacity for 1000 peti. But if 2000 peti reach there, the prices will drop. That is natural.
Most apple growers are small and medium farmers. They don’t have strong holding capacity. They have to sell the produce to earn revenue for the family.
The apple orchards abroad are connected to CA stores with small holding capacity which is sufficient for local needs. Perhaps this model can be developed here too.
GenNext Of Kashmir Losing Interest In Horticulture
Some top authorities associated with agriculture in Kashmir recently went to Holland. They were amazed to see that in Holland, four generations of the same family are engaged in horticulture. They told us that their children don’t want government jobs. They are content with focusing on better production in horticulture in terms of both quality and quantity.
Many in our next generation are losing interest in horticulture. They observe how much their father is stressed because of the many challenges in horticulture. They don’t want a life of so many stresses and strains. So they seek the comfort of a job.
These challenges will have to be addressed. Marginal growers with low resources, low capacity to invest in upgradation. Small land holdings. Seasonal challenges like scab, hailstorms.
We need to resolve all these challenges on priority so that our coming generations are drawn towards horticulture, and they invest their time and money into it.