‘Not sure of continued business prospects’
SHOPIAN: The ban on civilian movements on the Jammu-Srinagar highway, placed by the Government of India on April 7 following the February 14 attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, and the road closure due to inclement weather have placed the apple sector in huge crisis.
According to market experts, the Kashmiri apple is seeing a very low market as the fruit stored in cold chains did not get ferried to parts of India in time.
They said that this year’s rates are the lowest since the introduction of cold chains in the Valley.
It is believed that the apple sector will see low market rates for the next produce and most of the traders and businessmen related to the sector have suffered heavy losses.
“We are getting the rates at which we bought it. The cold chain charges and the other ferrying expenses are what we have to pay from our own pockets and it comes to a huge amount,” said a trader who had stored 3,000 apple boxes in Lassipora-based cold chains.
According to experts and business analysts, two lakh apple boxes are still pending in the cold chains despite the routine season having ended.
“We were ending the supply of apple by the end of April, but this year we are entering the month of June, and around two lakh apple boxes are still accumulated in the cold chains,” Izhan Javid, a leading horticulture-related businessman, said adding that the temperature has risen to a large extent and once the Kashmiri apple reaches different markets of India, it gets damaged due to the heat and doesn’t last for long.
A New Delhi-based trader, Anil, said that they have no means to buy the apple at satisfactory rates.
“It reaches us in damaged condition, and in the season, we saw either an abundance of stock or no stock at all. The supply was not maintained by the traders in Kashmir due to unknown reasons.”
Traders in the Valley also say that the lack of demand and supply was the main reason why the apple rates were affected.
“During the highway ban, we were getting only a day to supply fruit and after the ban was lifted, the highway again remains closed. Our fruit either spoiled on the way or in the intense heat outside the Valley,” Nisar Ahmad, another trader, said.
He added that this year’s losses caused due to the highway closure have broken their backs and they would hardly be able to continue in the business.
A group of traders said that it costs them around Rs 400 per apple box in cold chains. They can also buy the same box at Rs 600 to 800 from orchardists and pay over Rs 100 for transportation charges. Currently, however, the highest market rates are Rs 700 in the Delhi market and similar in other states.
“It clearly shows that we incur losses of over Rs 500 per apple box,” trader Bilal Ahmad said adding that last year the same apple boxes were sold for Rs 2,200 in the Indian markets.
Traders also said that the fruit is not able to bear the heat in outside states. Despite that, the government added to their woes by not allowing the movement of apple-laden trucks during the highway ban.
“The highway has turned into a nightmare for us. It hardly remains open, and after opening, the authorities didn’t allow trucks to ply. The alternate Mughal Road route has the same woes, where most of the time the heavy vehicles are not being allowed,” said a truck driver who is transporting fruit since last September.
Market experts said that this year’s highway ban and road closure will bring Rs 2,000 crore losses to the traders and orchardists.
It is pertinent to mention that the apple was earlier hit by the market rates. However, the traders were expecting an upsurge in the rates of cold-chained fruit. But that has not turned out to be true as the sector has also sustained heavy losses to the orchardists and traders.
“I am sure that the apple sector is going to suffer in the coming season too. As we see, most of the traders sustained heavy losses earlier due to sluggish market rates, and now again the same has happened to the fruit which they had put in cold chains,” said Javid Ahmad Lone, a market expert. He added that there would be a decline in the number of local traders and that even the traders in Delhi and other places have witnessed losses. According to him, the apple sector is in deep crisis if the government does not take concrete steps.