Killing Fruit Export

Of late, horticulture has developed into a major sector in Jammu and Kashmir’s economy, contributing around Rs 5,000 crore to the state’s annual income with a production figure of about 300 lakh metric tons, and sustaining a sizeable section of the population in certain belts.

Though the state government has recognized its significance and even issued declarations with regard to the sector’s position in the local economy, it has done very little in terms of introducing modernizing influences, for example in post-production techniques and marketing where growers still  employ primitive methods. Some subsidies on fertilizers and equipment do exist, but the state has completely failed to intervene in creating new marketing channels.

For instance, in the case of walnut, Kashmir has almost total domination in the country, contributing 97 percent of India’s annual production of the dry fruit, and yet no benefits of this advantage accrue to the state and its growers. Kashmir’s walnut yield is 100 per cent organic, grown without any chemical fertilizers and pesticides, but in the absence of a state policy on organic foods and a connected certification system, businessmen from outside buy the crop  and sell it at five times the cost after repackaging and certification as  organic.

With its studied inaction on deciding an organic foods policy, the state government has blocked avenues for local traders (who could otherwise export the fruit directly), contributed to the impoverishment of the economy, and helped trade cartels outside Jammu and Kashmir to flourish and thrive.

Apple, the major component of Kashmir’s fruit produce, is a similar story. Post-production processing and transportation are neglected, and growers persistently complain of exploitation by transport operators. With cold-storage facilities non-existent, transportation to destinations within short timeframes becomes critical, and the fruit is flooded into markets, particularly Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi, where prices drop sharply due to the sudden glut. Again, it is the Kashmiri grower who faces the loss.

The state’s export figures do not bear out New Delhi designating it as an Agri Export Zone for apple and walnut. Both fruit are grown here, but exported mainly by businessmen from outside the state.