The Impact of Challenges on Kashmir’s Apple Industry

The apple industry in the Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir is facing a severe crisis due to a series of challenges. The quality of apples this year has been affected by fungal scab, climate change, and economic hurdles, causing anxiety among farmers. Kashmir is renowned for its variety of apples, but the prevalence of C-grade apples this year has negatively impacted the industry. With 40% of the apple production falling into the C-grade category, farmers are concerned about the decline in prices.

The horticulture department of Jammu and Kashmir has highlighted the significance of apple, walnut, and almond farming in the region, providing direct and indirect employment to approximately 2.3 million people. The annual exports from the orchards generate significant revenue, surpassing the tourism sector. However, unusual weather patterns have started taking a toll on the industry. Unseasonal rainfall in April-May caused scab to affect the crop, even washing away the pesticides used by some farmers. Dr. Tariq Rasool Rather, a senior scientist, explains that extreme weather patterns impact the size, quality, and quantity of the crop, leading to a decline in apple quality to a B or C grade.

Farmers like Ghulam Mohammad Bhat have reported witnessing unprecedented weather patterns in the region, such as hailstorms damaging their crops and prolonged dry spells causing water scarcity. Data from the meteorology department of Jammu and Kashmir indicates an increase in severe weather occurrences in the ecologically sensitive Kashmir Valley over the past seven years, resulting in human casualties. The region experienced the hottest July in eight years in 2021, as well as the coldest night in 30 years earlier that year. These erratic weather conditions, including a ‘false spring,’ resulted in crop damage and diminished apple color.

Apart from weather challenges, transportation also poses a major problem for farmers. The valley becomes cut off from the rest of the world during winters due to landslides on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway, the only road connecting the region. This makes transporting the harvested crop a significant challenge, with trucks often stranded for days.

The influx of Iranian apples in India’s fruit markets has further intensified the crisis. The availability of alternative apple sources affects the market share and price of Kashmiri apples. Previously, a box of Kashmiri apples would sell for 1,000-1,300 rupees, but the price has dropped to 800 rupees, insufficient to cover production costs. The Indian government’s decision to waive the 20% tariff on imported apples from the United States has also contributed to the drop in prices and distress among farmers.

The Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealer Union (KVFG) and the Kashmir Apple Merchants Association have sought intervention from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the federal government to address these issues. Farmers express concern about dealers selling spurious or sub-standard pesticides, as reliable quality pesticides would help reduce the scab in orchards. The horticulture department claims to have taken strong action against accused dealers and filed criminal cases, but problems arise when farmers neglect pesticide spray schedules.

The crisis in the apple industry has far-reaching consequences beyond the farming community. When apple farmers struggle financially, the entire domestic economy experiences a decline in consumption, impacting numerous sectors. The money that circulates in the market and reaches various trades is directly affected when income from apple farming diminishes. To mitigate the crisis, it is crucial for the government to address these challenges, take decisive action against unscrupulous pesticide dealers, and provide support to apple farmers in Kashmir.