Srinagar: On July 16, when Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami addressed the first national conference of the Apple Farmers’ Federation of India (AFFI) organised in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir Kisaan Tehreek, a hard rain descended on south Kashmir’s Shopian town, the venue of the conference. However, hundreds of apple farmers sitting under a shaky canopy did not move an inch until the Marxist leader completed his speech.
Tarigami urged the government to halt the import of apples from the US and other countries, as such imports substantially contribute to the decline in prices of domestic produce. Barely two days later, on July 19, reports emerged that the Union government had decided to remove the extra tariff duty on Washington apples. On September 5, the Union finance minister issued an order waiving the 20% additional retaliatory duty levied on premium Washington apples in 2019.
The order came on the close heels of a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi. Tarigami issued a statement terming the removal of additional duty as Modi’s G20 gift to the US.
The newly minted AFFI held conferences in both south and central Kashmir to mount pressure on the government. The federation also put forth a charter of demands before the government.
“In September, we met with the Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha and presented him a memorandum of demands concerning apple farmers,” said Zahoor Ahamd Rather, president of AFFI (J&K). He added that restrictions and 100% import duty on apples imported from the US and other countries could save the apple farmers.
“Such imports are bound to affect the produce from J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand,” said Rather.
Kashmir produces around two million metric tonnes of apples annually, with around 3.5 million people directly or indirectly relying on the industry for their livelihood.
Apple cultivators in the Valley continue to voice their concerns over the import of apples from across the world with low import duties.
“Imports from Iran, routed through Afghanistan, coupled with the removal of additional duty on Washington premium apples are impacting domestic produce,” said Mohamamd Ashraf Wani, a local fruit grower and former president of the Fruit Mandi, Shopian.
Wani said that Indian apples could not compete with the Washington premium apples.
Rather, on the other hand, drew an analogy between Indian and US farmers. “The US farmers receive around 32% subsidy while the subsidy received by domestic farmers [in India] stands at scant 2.5%,” he said.
The Department of Horticulture issued statements in an attempt to allay the fears of farmers regarding the apple imports. Director horticulture, Ghulam Rasool Mir, on November 5 told PTI that imports from the US and other countries were not a threat to J& K’s apple industry and they won’t be stopped.
Compared to last year, apple production this year is significantly lower, with farmers from the apple-rich districts of Kashmir reporting about a 40% dip in the yield.
Izhan Javed, an apple orchardist and spokesperson the J&K Fruit and Vegetables Processing and Integrated Cold Chain Association (JKPICCA), said that the low production was coupled with more C-grade apples. “Around 30% is of lower quality,” said Javed.
The erratic weather conditions during the spring are largely being held responsible for the low production and poor quality fruit.
Senior scientist at the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K) Dr Tariq Rasool said that frequent rains from March to July affected the fruit produce. He said that the rains stymied the movement of pollinators that resulted in low production.
“Lower temperature during that period is a key reason for the growth of pests,” said the scientist. He also said that the commonly grown Delicious variety “has an alternate bearing”. “Last year we experienced a bumper crop and this year it was low,” he added.
Following a promising market earlier this year, apple prices have suddenly plummeted over the two weeks. The drop in the prices is attributed to the arrival of thousands of apple cartons from Iran in Indian fruit markets.
“The first-rate apples from Iran via Afghanistan have precipitated the price drop. We were happy as the rates this year were comparatively high, but the imported produce has again started taking a toll on local harvest,” said Javed Ahmad, an apple grower.
Last month, an apple carton of Grade-A was sold between Rs 1,300 and Rs 1,400 in local fruit mandis. The prices, at the time this article was written, have dipped to Rs 850 to Rs 1,000.
Similarly, the prices of Grade-B apples have significantly fallen (from Rs 400-650 to Rs 250-300).
Gulzar Bhar is a journalist based in Srinagar.