Shopian: Apple growers and traders in Kashmir are having to pay for cold storages but are earning nothing as the coronavirus lockdown has forced all markets and transport shut. As many as one lakh tonnes of apple are lying in cold storages based in Lasipora Pulwama, Aglar Shopian, and some areas in north Kashmir. According to traders, there was satisfactory demand for apples but it all vanished overnight when the nation-wide lockdown began.
The apple industry in Kashmir had already suffered heavy losses last year due to the prolonged lockdown after abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and before that, due to unseasonal snowfall, inclement weather, and frequent shutdown of the national highway.
The government had recently allowed traders to export the fruit with limited number of trucks being allowed on the roads, but traders who operate at the fruit Mandi in Azadpur, New Delhi, say there are no buyers due to the lockdown.
Local demand, too, is almost nil. “The government is allowing us to open our outlets only for four hours, from 2pm to 6pm, but there are no buyers,” said Anil Anand, an agent based in New Delhi.
Another trader said that when no buyers come, the fruit is left in the Mandi and the intense hot temperature spoils it.
Izhan Javid, a Lasipora-based cold chains owner, said that the apple sector is going through its worst phase ever. “Last year, closure of the highway ruined the apple trade and now the lockdown is doing it,” he said, adding that the fare charges at this time used to be Rs 15,000 per truck, but drivers now take Rs 35,000 per truck.
One of the biggest worries of traders and growers is that apples can be stored only for seven months in cold units. “That seven-month period has already ended,” said Abdul Hameed Bhat, a trader who is in this business since a decade.
Bhat said that there is no hope of getting any relief as there is no such scheme of the government.
Last year, a record 1.5 lakh metric tonnes of apple were stored in cold units in Kashmir, half a lakh tonnes up from previous years. The post-August circumstances in Kashmir forced most of the growers to store the apple than to sell it.
Many of the traders and growers who spoke to Kashmir Reader said that only a relief package from the government can help them.
“There are many such people who have stored ten to twenty thousand of apple boxes in cold stores after buying it from growers. Where will these people go, who will support them after such heavy losses?” asked Bilal Ahmed, who has stored 1500 apple boxes at Lasipora.
According to official data, Kashmir produced around 23 metric tonnes of apple last year, of which about four percent was stored in cold units.
Last year, the Kashmiri apple fetched lowest rates in a decade as, according to experts, the demand and supply equilibrium was disturbed once there was delay in export of apple due a late season and frequent shutdown of the highway.
It is pertinent to mention here that most of the traders have taken business loans from banks and financial institutions and the growers have taken Kisan Credit Card loans. Most of them have failed to pay their debits for many years because of uncertain market rates, inclement weather, and restrictions on traffic movement.
The November 7 snowfall last year, according to government figures, damaged 38 percent of fruit trees in Kashmir, which will also affect future production in coming years.