Kashmir, the land of internet shutdowns and surprise curfews, has a new reason to worry: apples. With one lockdown after another, the region’s multi-billion rupee apple industry is headed downhill. As truck movement has been limited, apple farmers have not been able to transport their produce to different mandis across the country. According to reports, a box of A-grade apples that was earlier sold at Rs.1,000-1,200 currently fetches a maximum of Rs.600-700.
It all started after the abrogation of Article 370 in August last year. The decision was followed by imposition of Section 144 due to which farmers were not able to leave the confines of their homes to harvest the produce. When restrictions were somewhat relaxed, an early snowfall spelled more trouble for the industry with apple orchards suffering heavy losses due to thick snow cover. In hope of a better realisation in summer, the farmers stored their harvest but then came the ill-planned lockdown.
The fruit that earns Kashmir Rs.80 billion annually and provides livelihood to 3.3 million people is now withering away in cold storage. With markets shut and supply chain gone for a toss, apple farmers are incurring losses while having to pay rent for cold storage. Throughout this turmoil, the government has been of little help. According to reports, the Centre procured only 15,769 metric tonne of apple from Kashmir valley in 2019-20. To get some context, the region produces over 1.8 million metric tonne of the fruit every year, close to 75% of total apple production in the country.
Now, with the cherry harvest season also in its prime, farmers might be looking at a double whammy. Meanwhile, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry is exploring potential markets for apples and cherries with the government providing air transfer in case of confirmed buyers. Till then, #BuyKashmiriApples on Twitter is the farmers’ only hope.