Srinagar: Import of apples from the US and other countries are not a threat to the industry in Jammu and Kashmir and it cannot be stopped, a senior official of the horticulture department said on Sunday.
The official admitted downfall in the apple production in the Union territory this season and attributed it to the erratic weather, requesting growers to attend awareness camps and follow the weather advisories of the department.
“We have an agreement with them (apple producing countries)… If we want our produce to reach global markets, we should focus on improving the quality of our produce so that it can compete in the national and international markets,” Director, Horticulture, Kashmir, Ghulam Rasool Mir said.
“Compared to 2022, this year the production has recorded a shortfall and the main reason for this is erratic weather. First, decrease in the temperatures hit pollination followed by intermittent hailstorm and sudden rise in the temperature with less rainfall,” he said.
Mir said the climatic variations are beyond human control but the horticulture department carried out awareness camps at regular intervals to educate the farmers about spraying of orchards in scientific ways and also issued regular weather advisories so that the damage is minimized.
“The department is also encouraging hi-tech machinery like grading and packaging machines by providing subsidies. The government has already launched a five-year holistic development of agriculture and allied sectors which also include an integrated project for horticulture, with one of its components being post harvesting subsidy to ensure that our produce is properly presented in the market,” he said.
However, less production of apple this season in Kashmir has not disheartened the orchardists who are looking forward to improve quality of fruits to win over the local and international markets.
Syed Shakeeb Ayoub, a progressive apple grower from Shopian, claimed that he was the first to introduce a small grading and packaging unit in Shopian, the “apple bowl” of Kashmir.
“We need to look into various scientific ways to improve the quality of apples so that our produce is able to compete in the national and international markets,” Ayoub told PTI at his unit.
Tanvir Ahmad, another apple grower from Shopian, said the unemployed youth should come forward and invest their time and energy in the apple industry.
“The government needs to do more to educate the farmers,” he said, claiming that there is lack of awareness among the growers with regard to various schemes meant for their benefit.
Ahmad said there is over 40 per cent reduction in the apple crop this year but the rates are good. “The government should provide subsidies on anti-hail nets which will benefit us.”
However, some apple growers in north Kashmir’s Sopore are not happy as their crop was badly hit by scabies which they attributed to availability of spurious insecticides, a charge denied by the horticulture department.
Firdous Ahmad, an apple grower from Sopore, said crops of several farmers were hit by scabies this year, causing huge losses to them.
“The apple growers of Sopore, which has Asia’s largest mandi and is known as ‘Chhota London’, has been facing the problem of scabies for the past couple of years. I invested over Rs 3.50 lakh on spraying of pesticide this year but the disease returned this time as well, causing huge loss to us,” he said.
He blamed “spurious” pesticides in the market for the problem and said “we have lost trust” in the department.
On complaints about “spurious” pesticides by some farmers, horticulture director Mir said a tight vigil is being maintained by the department with active support of the agriculture department to ensure that the orchardists get good quality products only.
“The department is frequently checking and taking samples from the market,” he said, blaming weather and non-adherence of the advisories by some growers for the apple scabies.
Mir also said the department is holding awareness camps for the farmers to introduce high density plantations. “The new scheme of the government is not only meant for apples but also for other fruits. A total of 12 fruits like cherry, kiwi, walnut, and almond in Kashmir, and guava, dragon fruit and citrus fruits in Jammu region are covered under the high density plantation scheme for which 50 per cent subsidy is available,” he said.
Ghulam Hassan Bhat, an orchardist from Shopian, requested the government to ensure Jammu-Srinagar national highway remains open to facilitate transport of apples from the orchards to the markets outside the valley.
“The closure of the highway due to landslides in the past has caused loss to the growers,” he said.PTI