Apple Crisis in Kashmir Valley
THE plight of apple growers in Kashmir is awful, says Zahoor Ahammed, a farmer from Kulgam. “We have heard of farmer’s suicide in Maharashtra; if the existing situation persists, apple growers in Kashmir will also be compelled to commit suicide,” said Ahammed while speaking to the AIKSCC delegation that visited Kulgam on November 14, 2019.
The delegation representing the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee (AIKSCC), the largest umbrella platform of around 250 peasant and agricultural workers organisations working across the country visited Kashmir valley on November 13-15. V M Singh(Convener), Raju Shetty- Ex MP, Yogendra Yadav, Prem Singh Ghehalavath, Sathyavan, Swasthik Patel and P Krishnaprasad- Ex MLA were the members of the delegation.
After reaching Srinagar on 13th morning the delegation members attended a meeting of representatives of apple growers and fruit traders from districts of Baramulla, Shopian, Anantnag, Kulagam, Ghandharbal, Pulwama and Srinagar in which around 70 people were present. The same day evening we had field visit in Wakura village in Ghandharbal district. On 14th we attended meeting of farmers at Kulgam Rest House, in which around 100 farmers and peasant activists were present. We had field visit on the way at Lathepura, Chandara and Pampore. On November 15th we had meeting with the president of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sheiekh Ashiq and his colleagues at the office of the chamber and had interaction with few media persons.
The consequences of the political turmoil since the withdrawal of Article 370 by the BJP government and the heavy un-seasonal snow fall on November 7th had devastating effect on the apple growers in Kashmir. Crops like pear, cherry and grapes which were harvested in August were stranded due to compete shutdown in the entire valley and could not be marketed, leading to near total loss for the farmers.
Apple harvesting season in the valley is from September to November. This year apple harvesting was to begin in early September, but was delayed as farmers could not go out for plucking the fruit due to the political turmoil. There was severe shortage of labour in apple orchards and no transport facility was available. Trucks were not allowed in villages and interior roads. Promising security cover, the army directed the apple growers to bring their produce at the national highway. When the drivers were shot by the militants, naturally no truck owners and drivers were willing to risk their lives and did not lift the apple produce. The state administration failed to arrange procurement centers at village or block level. Then apple growers were forced to spend Rs1,500 to Rs 4,500 for additional transport using small goods vehicles. Trucks with full load of apple boxes were not able to ply on the national highway due to security reasons. Fruits got perished within the trucks stranded on the roads for 12 to 15 days. It was a huge loss to the fruit industry that naturally affected the payment of growers heavily.
Internet connectivity, what’s app and mobile phones were blocked by the government, and continue to be blocked, bringing total loss of communication that badly affected market updates and monitoring climate changes. Procurement as well as sales markets were closed in the season across the valley. In this context the government of India had introduced Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) by engaging NAFED and the growers thought it will encourage competition in the procurement market and benefit them. But the NAFED market intervention was disruptive in nature. It had procured 7,940 metric tonnes only so far which amounts to below one per cent of the annual production. NAFED had opened two or three centers in various districts in place of 200-300 procurement centers which were used to be in operation in the private sector. The standard quantity of one box is 16 kg of fruits. Normally ‘A’ grade apple boxes will fetch Rs 600 per box in the procurement market and up to Rs 1200 to 1600 in the wholesale sellers market. NAFED sold the fruits it had procured from the valley in the whole sale market elsewhere in India at low price starting with just Rs 200 per box. It had large impact on procurement market and the prices further crashed detrimentally affecting the interests of the growers.
Further adding to the woes, the un-seasonal heavy snow fall occurred on November 7, across the valley. The snow fall was ranging from 18 inches to one meter in height especially in the district of Shopian and other adjacent districts. Last year the snow fall had been to the extent of 5-6 inches only in general but that had brought severe crop loss. Comparing to last year large scale destruction happened to the apple plants this year. Tens of thousands of plants were damaged fully or partially and large volume of fruits got perished. There was no advisory from the administration about the weather change and people were denied of internet access hence unable to monitor and undertake precautions.
In Wakura village of Ghandarbal district we visited an apple orchard of Gulam Muhammed Kambay who owns 120 kanal( 15 acres) of land. Muhammed and his grand sons, Uvais Ahammed Dhar and Sarfarose Kambay said the crop was good this year and they were expecting around Rs 40 lakh -50 lakh as income but now they have lost around Rs 20 lakh-30 lakh due to the natural calamity. Half of the fruits were spoiled and large number of trees got heavily damaged. This loss will continue to have impact on the coming seven to ten years. Apple plants will bear fruits after a gestation period of 8-12 years and will continue to yield till 35-40 years. Damage to the trees at the age of 25-35 years will cost heavily to the growers.
As per the conservative assessment by the horticulture department, this year’s snow fall has brought 35 per cent loss of annual production in the valley. However the farmers have opined that loss is up to 70 per cent. The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry which has the tradition of 85 years of existence has in their assessment estimated loss of Rs 8,000 crore this year to the fruit industry of Kashmir due to both factors; the political turmoil and natural calamity.
The timing of the political decision to scrap Article 370 was crucial as far as the social and economic lives of the people are concerned. The fruit industry is the backbone of the economy of Kashmir. India is the 6th largest producer of apples in the world. Around 5 lakh families or 35 lakh people of Kashmir are dependent on apple industry. Annual production of apple in Kashmir was 22.35 lakh metric tonne in 2016-17. Kashmir produces 77 per cent of India’s total apple output and it is estimated to be worth Rs 14,000 crore annually.
Abdul Rasheed an apple grower from Shopian demanded government of India to ensure open and transparent price rate and procurement mechanism for apple. He explained how the farmers are exploited by the market forces. Muhammed Yousuf Dhar president of Road Transporters Association, Baramulla district said in Srinagar meeting that the trade was badly affected due to lack of internet connectivity. Muhammed Afsal Pari who is the regional secretary of Kisan Thehri in Kulgam has criticised the government of India for not bringing horticulture crops under insurance coverage and demanded to declare the apple crisis of 2019 as national calamity and compensate the farmers on the basis of actual loss. Majeed Bhat of Gandharbal said sheep breeders also suffered heavy loss due to complete shutdown and lack of transportation and marketing access. Basher Ganai a saffron farmer from Chandara, Pampore said the impact of both the shut down and snow fall on saffron crop was much worse and they were able to harvest ony 15 per cent of the crop.
Gulam Nabi Mallick who is the state secretary of Kisan Thehri and CKC member of All India Kisan Sabha who did the major work to mobilise the apple growers across the valley in the meetings held at Srinagar and Kulgam said 93 per cent of the apple growers are poor and small farmers having less than one hectare of land and they are the most affected. He demanded the administration to conduct immediate survey and assess on time the actual loss to the apple crop and the plants.
Apple is cultivated under 49 per cent of the farm land area making it the largest crop of Kashmir. A study report from J & K bank on apple sector states that 75 per cent of the farm growers get their loan from private money lenders and only 10 per cent farmers get institutional loans. In the private sector the effective interest rate is in the range of 36- 54 per cent.
With the observations made directly and hearing the facts from all sections of the society the delegation is of the assessment that the loss suffered by the horticulture industry is around 60-70 per cent which may be around Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,000 crore and the impact of this calamity is going to affect the apple growers for the next four to five years to come. The apple growers of India are facing real hardship and miseries and at this juncture of crisis they badly need the all out support by the government of India and solidarity by the entire people of India.
Surprisingly, the Kashmir administration has not declared it a calamity, nor has it initiated any field survey so far to estimate the extent of the damages. Regular supply of electricity, road connectivity and supply of essential items in villages and rural area also are major issues of concern. There was no consultation with the representatives of apple growers as well as commerce and industry by the administration; this points to the failure of the government machinery when the people are facing severe miseries that too in a union territory, which is politically highly sensitive and administered under the direct control of the government of India.
The lieutenant governor was away at Jammu hence the delegation tried to meet the divisional commissioner of Srinagar, but he was away at Kupwara and explained his inability to meet us. We tried hard to visit Muhammed Yusuf Tarigami, mass leader and former MLA and contacted the DCP, Shahid Choudhry and give him written letter for permission but he did not responded to that. We had spoken to I G Kashmir, S P Pani but he said he had strict orders from the government not to entertain any visitors and suggested us to obtain permission from the high court.
The government of India has to support and promote farmers cooperatives in Kashmir and elsewhere to develop proper infrastructure and market intervention capacity if it really wants to mitigate farm crisis and ensure doubling the income of farmers.
The AIKSCC is trying hard to bring together maximum peasant and agricultural workers organisations and has persuaded the apple growers in the valley to join the national council meeting of AIKSCC on November 29-30, 2019 at Mavlankar Hall, New Delhi.
DECLARE APPLE CRISIS IN KASHMIR AS NATIONAL CALAMITY
The AIKSCC has demanded the Union government to declare the apple Crisis in the Kashmir valley as a national calamity, eligible for assistance from National Disaster Relief Fund.
The UT administration has to conduct immediate comprehensive field survey by revenue officials to assess the actual loss.
A high level committee comprising senior officers of the horticulture department of government of India and subject experts must immediately visit the Valley and assure the farmers will remain with them in this crisis and government of India must take steps to compensate farmers for damages for actual loss as well as for long term impact due to damages.
Relief compensation must reach apple growers as well as growers of saffron, pear, grape, cherry and sheep breeders. The Union government has to write off loans of affected farmers and in the meanwhile reschedule KCC loans/extend long term interest free loan to all needy farmers.
The AIKSCC in a letter to the home secretary expressed its protest on the insensitive attitude of the administration of J & K Union Territory that did not permit the delegation to visit Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami, former MLA and mass leader of Kashmir and observed that the freedom of democratic and civil rights of all citizens including political leaders of Kashmir who stands with the Constitution of India and working for democratic and secular fabrics of the society needs to be ensured for better governance and administration system that will benefit all sections of the people and the interests of the country at these hours of crisis.