This year Azadpur fruit Mandi Delhi has not witnessed the hustle of Kashmiri apple growers as it  used to. After the tidy harvest apple growers from Kashmir valley flung to Delhi in December- January mainly for two reasons(a) to check the statements( Watake) and (b) to renew the contract/advances. Apple growers of valley have been doing business with AzadpurMandi(Asia’s largest fruit Mandi)commission agents for decades. Off late fruit growers have start exploring option in Bombay, Bengaluru, Ahmadabad , Meerut  etc.for better rates.

Agriculture  and allied sectors are and will continue to be the backbone of our economy and source of livelihood for the majority of the population of our state. The contribution of the horticulture sector in general and apple industry in particular in the state economy is very significant. In terms of area and production of apple Jammu and Kashmir ranks first in the country.According to National Horticulture board in 2017-18 , the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir produced 77.7% apples in India , surprisingly India is fifth largest producer of apples in the world . Kashmir would then be the 11th largest grower of the apples coming after Russia and Brazil .The Horticulture industry of Kashmir has a turnover of Rs. 10,000 crore annually.

Data from previous years suggest that there has been the fall in price of produce of  growers. Here I will not dwell around politics of opening the ancient silk route, the global climatic changes which exposed the fruit growers to  weather vagaries ,other natural vulnerabilities like sudden snowfall in the month of November, excess rains in the month of May calamities like hail storm, winds etc. the externalities in uncontrollable factors can maximum be insured but cannot be eliminated at all.

Although there has been a quantum jump in the production of apple in the valley but the fact remains that per hectare production (11.7t/ha)  is still far behind the potential and fruit quality does not match with the required standards baring some exceptional cases.This indicates an enormous gap between what we produce and what we can produce. where we are at present, what the challenges are and what we need to do in view of the existing and future situations.

The abrogation of article 370 on 5th august  2019 and shutdown in valley forced government to intervene in market by asking NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India ltd) to procure fruits from Kashmir, the market intervention received mixed response ,various farmer produce organization call it a failure .the real assessment can be done only once complete data is available.the introduction of NAFED has opened the Pandora box of problems for apple growers .The commission agents are over cloud nine as they are having roller coaster ride when it comes to commission from NAFED purchase ,leaving farmers in lurch. The debt of fruit growers is piling up leaving them with no option but to sell their land. The dejection and devastation to small growers is unheard of. If this problem is not nipped at bud I  am afraid farmer  suicides may happen in the valley due to economic hardship  like in rest of India. This will literally make the valley more vulnerable , youth will literally feel left alone. the political and security  ramifications will be severe .

Diagnosing the problem

What happen to Kashmir handicrafts, like Paper Mashie, Handloom and  Pottery is history , we are on the cusp of putting farmers there . Apple industry in valley is on ventilator  and we are unable to diagnosis  the  nuances of this catastrophe. The factors of production have sky rocketed . a simple math’s give us an idea that overhead expenses have  become out of pocket from growers. From pruning to spray oils the expenses have doubled while as the  rate of produce  have fallen. This cycle of deficit is keeping small growers bonded to commission agents for advances. Who charge hefty commissions to make farmers more vulnerable in long run.

The problem with apple industry in Kashmir valley is multi-faceted. The foremost important one is of supply chain management. From the orchid to the Mandi the supply chain is too lengthy , thus reducing the profitability of apple growers, the number of commission agents from Fertilizers to pesticide’s  to transporters  to Mandi agents is making mockery of apple growers. The other externalities like frequent shut down , closure of national highway due to rains has added to the woes of apple growers. Those who used to be Munshi (accountant) of the commission agents have turned into millionaires and today they are full agents with lavish offices in Mandi. Each agent is doing business with a big apple grower at valley who yield considerable power and influence to lure small growers for better rates and advances from Delhi, the big fruit growers in turn get a fixed commission of 6-12% per grower. The chain is closely knitted, any breakage can disrupt the supply and cause loses to both commission agents and big fruit growers.

Solutions

Despite all the hard work,the apple growers are at loss. The future looks bleakwith surmounting debt and nowhere to go .Apple industry in valley has to survive at any cost, it is the life line of more than 70% people in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Though we are far away from introducing expert system in agriculture including fuzzy logic and neural networks but  small baby steps should be taken to make apple industry more profitable and cost effective,  From soil to sale of apple in the Mandi, the supply chain mix needs intervention . the smart mechanism need to be introduced from seed to Mandi. If the number of the agents in between are eliminated we can add another Rs2000 crore to farmers value .the opaque process of sale of produce should be made transparent and digital India can play an important role in bringing transparency and value addition.  Small farmers need empowerment in terms of technology , credit facilities ,knowledge  decimation  which will enhance their bargaining power. Joint or group farming like farmer interest groups, farmer producer companies/organizations, SHGs etc. may prove quite helping in the dissemination of technology and reduction of risks at various levels of farming up to marketing. The clarion call of PM Modi to double farmers income by 2022 look mirage to  valley producers as of now.

Javid Majid is doing  research  on Agrarain  crisis  in india at Jamia Milia islamia New Delhi


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