Srinagar: Apples worth over Rs 2,400 crore in the Kashmir valley are on the brink of losing their market with traders claiming that cheaper Iranian apples have flooded the Indian markets leading to a sharp decline in demand and prices of high-quality Kashmiri apples.
According to leading apple traders in Kashmir, there are more than 1.5 crore boxes available with growers and traders waiting to be sold but there is no demand due to the recent arrival of Iranian produce in the country’s leading fruit markets. Apple traders in Kashmir say many apple boxes in the valley’s cold storage units are expected to be sent out after February, but apples are facing the risk of rotting.
Bashir Ahmad Bashir, President, Kashmir Valley Fruit Association in Srinagar, told NewsClick that Iranian apples first arrived last year, following which the fruit associations and growers protested. Bashir says this year apple production in Kashmir was good, but so was it in Iran.
“Since there are sanctions on Iran, they have turned to India. We had already written to the government that if Iranian apples enter the country, it will impact Kashmir’s apple industry. Due to the sanctions, Iranian apples are sold at cheaper rates,” he added.
Iranian apples have arrived in bulk in the Indian markets last month, causing a decline in demand for Kashmiri apples.
“There has been a sharp decrease in apple prices by up to 50%. It has become difficult for us, and we are suffering massive losses,” Bashir said.
Apple farmers in Kashmir are demanding that the government of India should bar the Iranian apples from entering the country’s market or at least increase import duties so that there is some respite for domestic apple producers.
The Sopore fruit mandi in North Kashmir was established about 40 years ago and, with a trade of Rs 5,000 crore, is one of the largest fruit mandis in Asia regarding fruit production.
Here Zahoor Tantray, an apple trader from Sopore Mandi, says they dispatch over of four crore boxes each year to Indian markets and markets in Bangladesh and Nepal. Still, the challenge from Iranian apples is something they cannot deal with unless the government intervenes.
“Iranian apples not only threaten our current produce but everything that we have in cold or normal storages for upcoming summer months. Both Kashmiri farmers and farmers from Himachal Pradesh will face severe losses if the current trend continues. Our apples will rot in the stores,” Zahoor told NewsClick.
Worth over Rs 8,000 crore, Kashmir’s apple industry is considered the backbone of the region’s economy, with over three million people directly or indirectly involved in the business. The industry contributes about 8% of the total gross domestic product of J&K and provides 8.73 crore person-days of work. Over the past few years, apple farmers have been grappling with climate change and politicisation of the fruit, with some accusing that the cash crop aids militancy despite the farmers being at the receiving end of militant attacks in recent years.
Sopore Mandi’s president Fayaz Ahmad says the apple industry in Kashmir suffered back-to-back losses in the past five years due to political turmoil and other factors. “We had hoped this year for a better outcome. Unfortunately, this year, the arrival of Iranian apples, which has entered the market without taxes, have added to our problems,” he said.
An apple trader from Srinagar, Firdous Ahmad, while appealing to the authorities to intervene in the issue, is hopeful that the government will address the issue and save the industry from the crisis.
“It is not a matter of few people. Lakhs of people are dependent on this trade. Their livelihood depends on it, and if there is a threat to it, it may push people toward drastic steps like suicide. We are hopeful that the Prime Minister will intervene and save this industry and people,” he said.