Srinagar: The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) on Thursday called for unity in the apple belt region through a peasant movement against what they termed as “corporatisation of agriculture” and fight the large-scale exploitation of the apple farmers across the country.
Following a two-day “National Workshop of Apple Farmers” at Srinagar, members of the farmers’ rights group took note of what they saw as the “large scale exploitation” of apple farmers and farm labour by corporates and middlemen with active support from the government of India through its “neoliberal policies.”
Speaking after the event, Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI (M)] leader M Y Tarigami said: “Corporates make huge profits through multinational trade manipulations.”
He said the Controlled Atmosphere Storage (CAS) facility being rented out to big corporate groups was another example of how public money was being diverted to assist corporate houses for “profiteering”.
Such trade “manipulations” by corporates were being allowed by the Union government to crash the sales price for farmers, he alleged.
During the workshop, the farmers’ groups said “no effective government mechanism” for procurement, transport and storage of apples was accessible to the majority of apple growers in difficult terrains. The much acclaimed schemes by the state administration for high-density farms and market interventions were “non-starters,” they said.
For that, a resolution on the issues and demands of apple farmers was adopted following the workshop, which proposed that effective alternatives, such as cooperatives must be developed.
The organisers said they would reach out to apple farmers, spread across 20 districts across the country, within a stipulated time frame and form an Apple Farmers Federation of India to rally apple farmers and farm workers under its banner. They will be submitting a demand charter to the Central government and undertake struggles till realisation of the demands.
AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah said: “Worker-peasant unity has to advance toward larger unity of the people to address the yet unresolved agrarian question in the apple belt region, which is working as a fertile ground for the aggressively divisive and communal politics and turmoil prevailing today.”
The National Workshop of Apple Farmers in India, Mollah added, was a first step toward building a peasant movement on the crop- specific issues in this sector.
The Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir contributes 77% to the total apple production in India, which is considered as sixth largest producer of apples in the world. The apple sector, according to AIKS, provides livelihood to around nine lakh households in India, mainly from Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. The apple industry in Jammu and Kashmir contributes 8% to the region’s gross domestic product or GDP.
“The major issue confronting farmers in the apple industry today is denial of remunerative prices. Around 30% of the production gets wasted or spoilt at different stages due to non-availability of storage facilities with small and middle farmers,” Mollah said.
The average value fetched by apple farmer in different categories is estimated as Rs 45 a kilogram for A grade, Rs. 20/kg for B grade and Rs. 8/kg for C grade. On an average, farmers get Rs. 24/ a kg and since 18 lakh tonnes is the marketable produce, the income received by farmers is around Rs 4,300 crore., he said.
“Against this, the consumer price of apples as per the grade varies from Rs. 30 to Rs. 300. If we consider Rs. 80 as the average commodity price in the retail market, then around Rs. 14,400 crore is the value in the consumer market. Farmers who have to bear the cost of production, including labour charges, get below 30% of this value chain,” Mollah said.
AIKS’ finance secretary P Krishnaprasad said: “The remaining 70% of the value, i.e., a whopping Rs.10,000 crore per year, is shared by various stakeholders, including corporate players, intermediaries and commission agents, cold chain owners, transporters, wholesale traders, retailers, credit institutions and as tax to governments.”
As per the resolution passed in the workshop, farm workers are also not paid sufficiently to live with dignity and face job insecurity hence are forced to migrate to other sectors in search of better jobs and income.
The workshop noted that the Union government had allowed import of apples to facilitate corporate control over the wholesale as well as retail market, at the cost of hurting the interests of growers.