Sopore: The Sopore Mandi is Kashmir’s and India’s largest fruit market, and the second-largest in Asia, and is situated on the outskirts of Sopore town, known also as the apple town of Kashmir. It is presently encountering umpteen hardships and huge losses due to the absence of a cold-storage facility. Traders have been demanding such facilities for years, but to no avail.
Established in 1988 on 372 kanals of land and considered the biggest fruit mandi in India, the market does business of around Rs 2,600 crore each year. The lack of infrastructure and the dearth of cold storage are however hampering its growth .
The year’s busiest time is during the apple season, which remains for approximately seven months, from July to January, which is when the Sopore Mandi does its briskest business. According to horticulture department data, the turnover from the last four apple seasons is as follows: in 2013-14, total turnover was Rs 410.96 crore from 97,15,550 boxes of apples at Rs 413 on average per box; in 2014-15, this rose to Rs 627.38 crore from 1,04,56,400 boxes at Rs 600 a box; in 2015-16, Rs 891.50 crores resulted from by selling 1,73,10,760 boxes at Rs 515 per box on average; and in 2016-17, the total turnover was Rs 7006.50 crore by selling 1,70,75,000 apple boxes at an average of Rs 600 per box.
Mohammed Shafi, the department’s area marketing officer, told Kashmir Reader that business could have been higher had they had cold storage. “If we could have stored our produce until harvest, the rates would have been high in the fruit market. But the non-availability of cold storage pushes growers to sell their harvest immediately, whether rates are high or low, before it gets spoiled, and their business suffers huge losses in this way.”
North Kashmir produces 3,97,675.61 MT of apples annually, with Baramulla being the highest producer at 1,72,813 MT. Of the three cold-storage units located in the district, only one is fully functional with a capacity of 3,000 MT.
The Sopore Mandi president, Mushtaq Ahmad Tantray, called cold storage “an important and urgent need” for the market and said the vendors had written a couple of times to the government about it, “but we only get assurances, without any action”.
“While this mandi is known throughout Asia, it’s very unfortunate that while it does not have a single cold-storage facility, such facilities have come up in the far south in Anantnag and Pulwama districts for reasons known to the authorities,” he rued.
In 2015, the government had announced building these facilities on a priority basis at three fruit terminal markets including at Sopore. However no progress has been made so far, Tantray said.
The horticulture sector is known as the backbone of the Kashmir economy, but it gets unjustifiably less attention from the government. The absence of an appropriate place to store fruit over-flow compels growers to sell their produce at cheaper rates.
“Whatever supply we receive from the growers needs to be sold immediately, even if market rates are down because we have nowhere to keep it. Normally apple business season in Kashmir is July to January, but if we had cold storage, we could have stored our harvest for six to seven months and exported it at the right time,” Tantray said.
“The Sopore fruit mandi is considered to be the largest fruit-producing market in Kashmir, so building small, private cold stores is not going to help us. The two private cold stores present in our district are of little help because they charge us a lot and fare gets spent travelling to those two stores. What the Sopore fruit mandi needs is a big cold storage facility in its vicinity with at least a ten-lakh apple box capacity.”
The market president went on to bring up another pending problem – the absence of a juice factory. “This would not only help traders utilise the ‘C-grade’ harvest to extract juice from it, so the lot would not go waste, but would also give employment to the youth, who are jobless after completing their degrees.”
When Kashmir Reader contacted the minister for horticulture, Syed Basharat Ahmad Bukhari, he said he had announced a cold-storage facility to be built in Sopore Mandi during his last visit there two months previously, and that the facility would be available “very soon”.
He also added that not just cold storage but also a hygienic canteen, toilets and other essential facilities would be available in the mandi very soon, and that the day was not far when the Sopore fruit mandi would be a better mandi.