September 17, 2023

Apple Growers Raise Concerns over Suspension of Market Intervention Scheme

IN a memorandum to the lieutenant governor of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar, sent on September 13, the Apple Farmers’ Federation of India (AFFI), underlined the calamity that awaits the apple growers of Jammu & Kashmir this marketing season due to the suspension of the Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) by the union government. The MIS played an important role in procuring inferior quality C-grade apples in the Valley since 2017, when the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) first launched the scheme. However, this year, the union territory administration has discontinued it for the current marketing season, causing much worry among growers.

Every year there are visuals of this culled fruit being dumped on highways and rivers, as the procurement under MIS is anyways a small portion of the total produce and most growers have no other avenue to sell their C-grade apples. This year, with even this support mechanism gone, there will be no floor prices and traders will force the growers to sell at throwaway rates. But the impending impact of the withdrawal of MIS can only be really understood after taking into account the condition of this year’s apple crop in J&K.

As per different media reports and information relayed by apple growers in the Valley to the AFFI, inclement weather since July has curtailed yields severely. First, there was unseasonal rainfall in July when the plants' buds were completely blooming. Finding conducive conditions, the dormant scab disease spread across the fruit trees causing flowered buds to fall off significantly. Then, a prolonged dry spell in the crucial months of August and September has negatively affected the size and colour of the apples, reducing their competitive edge in the open market. While those farmers who had the capacity to move to high density orchards were somewhat saved, most farmers with traditional orchards are suffering. There are reports of dwarf apples falling off wilted trees.

The cumulative effect has been the reduction of total yield by 40 to 50 per cent, that is a drop in yield by 1 million metric tonnes or more! But what is even more concerning is that a larger portion of this year’s produce is turning out to be inferior C-grade culled fruit. So, while the reduction in supply of quality apples may lead to increase in their market prices, there will be no takers for the flood of culled fruit entering the markets.

A similar situation has also developed in Himachal Pradesh, with incessant rains and hailstorms damaging the apple crop. However, the state government through its procurement agencies of HPMC has declared that the culled fruit would be procured at Rs 12 per kilo. This scheme, if implemented in scale, will reduce the burden of apple growers. In the prevailing circumstances, the AFFI demands that: 1) The administration of J&K revitalises the MIS and procures a significant part of the culled fruit at a remunerative price in the 2023-24 marketing season.

2) The administration through J&K HPMC involves growers in value addition activities involved in processing culled fruit into apple fruit juice, jams, pickles, breads, etc on the pattern of Himachal Pradesh.

3) The administration should implement the Crop Insurance Scheme (CIS) forthwith.

4) Launch an inquiry on the failure of the J&K horticulture department in establishing adequate weather stations that could communicate the spread of scab disease from one region to another.

5) Revert the reduction of import tariff on Washington apples and impose 100 per cent import duty to safeguard apple growers of the country.
6) Regulation of freight charges on the pattern followed by Himachal Pradesh.