‘Apple Growers Feeling Suffocated, Need Support’: AFFI
New Delhi: At a press conference called by the Apple Farmers’ Federation of India (AFFI), orchardists from Himachal Pradesh, on their way to meet Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, informed the media of the alarming situation in the country’s apple growers this season.
Sohan Thakur, a coordinator of AFFI, said that even though only 5% of the total production had been marketed this season, the approaching crisis was already evident. “From last year’s figures, we can say without a doubt that in the total apple economy of Rs 14,000 crore, farmers only received Rs 4,000 crore, while the remaining Rs 10,000 crore went into the hands of all kinds of intermediaries, illegal cesses, and big corporates,” he claimed.
This was so, he explained, because the prices received by orchardists was only a fraction of the retail prices of apple. “On average, a grower receives Rs 24 per kg of apple. Even SAFAL (a unit of Mother Dairy), a governmental retail store, sells one kg of apple for Rs 290. Until we get a minimum of Rs 80 per kg, farmers will be further pushed to the edge.”
Another negative development is that cost of production relating to fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, and equipment such as spraying machines and tools had doubled in the last two years. “Potassium used to cost us Rs 800 per bag. This season, its cost has climbed to Rs 1,700. As for another essential nutrient, calcium-nitrate, it is simply unavailable in the market,” Thakur said.
AFFI was established in June this year at a convention in Srinagar, anticipating a mounting crisis in the apple sector. At the convention, growers from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir collaborated to build a federation that could improve their bargaining capacity and enable them to build collective institutions at the orchard level, such as producer cooperatives.
Readers may be reminded that crucial growing periods of apple fruit’s physiological growth have been affected by inclement weather. As reported by NewsClick, high temperatures and the drought-like situation has impacted the quality and quantity of production, particularly in Himachal Pradesh. Farmers are worried that prices will drop even further this season.
The press conference noted how traders and other intermediaries were already rushing to force down the running market price to save themselves from losses expected in a poor harvest. “Apple growers are feeling suffocated, and the small growers are seriously considering dropping apple cultivation altogether,” Thakur lamented.
With demands of remunerative prices, comprehensive loan waiver, special financial package to enhance productivity, restoration of subsidies, 100% excise duty on apple imports from all countries, support for the creation of producer cooperatives, a revival of research extension services, complete insurance coverage and inclusion of apple orchards under land development tasks undertaken by MGNREGA, the AFFI will urge the agricultural minister to proactively work to bring growers out of the crisis.
The delegation to the Minister will consist of Sohan Thakur and P Krishnaprasad, coordinators of AFFI, V Sivadasan, Rajya Sabha MP from Kerala, and Puran Thakur and Vineet Verma, members of AFFI.
While the petition is submitted and grievances conveyed, apple growers in Himachal Pradesh are already in the mood to confront the state. Under the banners of Sanyukt Kisan Manch and Seb Utpadak Sangh, struggles have been waged in Shimla district, a top producer of apples in the state.
Explaining the future plan of action to NewsClick, Puran Thakur explained that the current movement, while pivoting on various issues discussed at the press conference today, was particularly focused on the increase of GST on cartons and trays (used for packing apples) from 5% to 18%. “This steep hike in tax loot has deeply impacted apple growers. They are demanding now that GST be completely removed from packaging items,” he said.
“A massive gherao of the Secretariat in Shimla is planned for August 5. We expect orchardists who hitherto have not joined to become part of this demonstration. Even opposition parties like the Congress has woken up to the rage building on the ground,” Thakur added.
The August 5 dharna will also demand an end to the illegal cess levied on apples leaving the state at the Shoghi barrier for Chandigarh, Delhi and other big markets. Puran Thakur alleged that Rs 5-8 per box of apple was being charged this way, further breaking the economic strength of orchardists.
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