This year’s apple crop ruined by spurious pesticides that officials did nothing to check
Shopian: ‘Shaal cxalith bathen loodi’ is a Kashmiri proverb which means there is no use of beating the drums when wolves have already done their work. Similar is the case with Kashmir’s horticulture department which remained silent when spurious, substandard pesticides were supplied to Kashmir during Covid19 pandemic, due to which 80 percent of the apple crop this year has been damaged by scab.
A few days ago, some horticulture officials shared photos and statements on social media claiming they were conducting market checking of pesticides and fungicides. They did not mention that they are doing so when the harvesting of apple is in its last stage and growers need no fungicide for the next five months.
The Director Horticulture, Kashmir, recently issued a statement that two testing laboratories will be established in Kashmir, one in the north region and another in the south, to check the quality of pesticides which are being supplied to Kashmir from different parts of the country.
The statement was issued after a huge public outcry. A deputation of the Pesticide Dealers association also met the Director Horticulture and “highlighted various problems being faced by the pesticide dealers of Kashmir”. The association told the Director that the results of the samples drawn from the premises of distributors were usually received after six months. They demanded that the results must be made available in the shortest possible time. The deputation further informed the Director that at present only 20 elements are analysed in J&K against the standard practice of analysing 60 elements.
After this, the statement issued by the Director Horticulture said that the capacity of analysis must be enhanced to sixty elements.
Issuance of such statements, that too at the end of the year, is proof that not much was done for checking the pesticides earlier and it is the reason why most of the apple crop this year has been damaged by scab infection.
Mushtaq Ahmad Malik, president of the fruit growers and zamindars association in Shopian, told Kashmir Reader that the horticulture department slept through the entire period when spurious fungicides and pesticides were being supplied to Kashmir.
“Eighty percent of our crop has been damaged due to scab infection. We have never seen such a sorry condition of our apples. The blame goes to the government officials who were meant to stop such illegal supply but they never did,” he said.
Another grower said that the government is falsely blaming the weather for such massive infection. “We have seen bad weather in the past as well, but there was no outbreak of such scab. They intentionally allowed the supply of substandard fungicides to Kashmir,” he said.
The Director Horticulture had earlier told Kashmir Reader that there is appropriately 30 percent decline in apple production this year compared with last year, when Kashmir had produced 23 lakh metric tonnes of apple.
Bashir Ahmad Bashir, president of the fruit and vegetables mandi at Parimpora Srinagar, also said that 80 percent of the apple crop has been affected by scab.
“It costs a grower Rs 400 to grow a 16-kilogram box of apple, and he is getting lower price than that this year. They even can’t meet the cost of production with a 20 percent good crop,” Bashir said, adding that 150 truckloads of apple are being sent to different markets of India daily.
Bashir said that the apple industry in Kashmir is “in deep crisis”.
“It’s back was already broken by last year’s shutdown and now the scab has done the rest,” he said. “Only a few people from south Kashmir who had bought pesticides from outside Kashmir have managed to save their fruit from scab. The authorities allowed the rampant sale of dirt in the name of pesticides throughout the year.”
For a hectare of land, a grower needs fertilisers, fungicides and pesticides worth Rs 2 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh every year just to keep diseases at bay. Besides the scab, orchardists across Kashmir also suffered from multiple hailstorms this summer which caused more damage to the crop.
The chief executive officer of a leading apple trading company in Kashmir said, on the condition of anonymity, that he was worried to see the condition of this year’s apple. “We were thinking that the losses of last year would be compensated this year, but the callous attitude of the authorities has ruined this industry,” he said.
A senior bank official said that in some districts the condition of apple growers is such that only a bumper and quality crop for at least five years can help them clear their debts.
“Almost everyone has taken a loan. Some orchardists have taken Kisan Credit Card loans, some under their current accounts,” he said.
At least half of the Kashmiri population, comprising about eight lakh families, is directly dependent on horticulture, among which apple is the most important crop.
The Director Horticulture, Kashmir, refused to comment when contacted by this reporter for details of how much crop was affected by scab and hailstorm this year.