Can Kashmiri apple stand the competition?

Ibtisam Malik, Madiha, Zubair, Shaizan

– Apples dumped at a local orchard in south Kashmir. Photo: Ibtisam Malik

The decision to remove 20% import duty on American apples has evoked concern among apple growers in Kashmir.

According to Farooq Malik, who has been involved in the apple trade for the past 25 years, Kashmir’s apple industry will be directly impacted by the decision to lower the 20% import duty on American apples. “Since we lack the scientific methods to protect our apples from pesticides and scab, the apples that go outside the valley will not be able to compete with apples from other places as they adhere to various safety protocols,” he said.

“When trucks loaded with apples arrive in markets (mandis) outside Kashmir, apples from other nations will follow so it will undoubtedly pose problems because if an apple box costs Rs 1000, it will only fetch Rs 500. This is a major concern. It will have disastrous economic effects on the apple sector of Kashmir,” he added.

Kashmir, which provides 78% of India’s yearly supply of over 25–26 lakh metric tons (MT), is the region most known for its apple growing.  With 3.5 million jobs, 400 man-days of labor annually per hectare of orchards, and a 10% annual contribution to the state’s gross state product, the apple sector is one of Kashmir’s largest employers.

In 2020-2021, the Directorate of Horticulture J&K reported that the total amount of apples produced in Kashmir was 1695000.00 metric tonnes, while in Jammu Division, the quantity was 24415.69 metric tonnes. 1719415.69 Metric tonnes of apples are produced in the entire UT of J&K.

The valley of Kashmir was the main producer with 75 percent of India’s apples produced in the valley, which exports about 18 lakh metric tons of apples a year.

Another orchardist, Aashiq Hussain, voiced the concern. “We have been relying on these orchards to support our livelihood, but I believe the day is not far when we would be skipping it due to the various circumstances, be it weather conditions, downturn in the market, or competition.”

He claims that due to hardships, the younger generations will be unable to continue the trade.

“Although we had anticipated a record yield this year, the constant scab and chemicals among apples have once again left us in despair,” Hussain said.

“We keep applying various oils and fertilizers to the apple trees throughout the year, but the outcome is always the same. These fertilizers have no real therapeutic value,” he added.

Hussain opines that the best course of action for the Kashmiri apple industry would be for our own fruit scientists to devise a plan, take into account some excellent recommendations, or collaborate to create a strategy to begin manufacturing feasible fertilizers and provide additional scientific methods for reducing these diseases in apples.

Dr Shafat Ahmad Baba, an economic expert, said that when the apples arrive from Washington, they follow all proper procedures. “It is clear and obvious that the price of our own apples will undoubtedly go down once imported apples arrive at apple mandi. I think it would be impossible for apples from Kashmir to compete with other countries because we don’t have scientific ways to keep our apples fully safe from pesticides.”

Another Expert Arshid Peerzada says that the value of apple fruit and the role of its bioactive constituents in the delivery of essential micro‐ and phyto‐nutrients to humans cannot be overemphasized.

“The multi-targeted and multilevel pharmacological actions of its vitamins, minerals, and polyphenols especially against chronic diseases could indeed keep the doctor away. Thus, research strategies that prioritize the medicinal value of apples from the farm gate to consumer plate should be actively promoted,” he said.

Peerzada added that the current research studies have highlighted that the severity and infection cycle of different apple diseases can be effectively managed through the combined use of culture, sanitation, resistance, and fungicide sprays. This integrated approach to disease control minimizes the reliance upon one type of control over the others and usually results in a high percentage of quality fruit.

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