Srinagar: Forty-two-year-old travel agent Mumtaz Ahmad had invested his savings in the horticulture sector hoping to make up for the losses suffered in the tourism business for the last one year.
Despite buying costly pesticides and employing highly skilled laborers to upkeep his apple orchards, he is struggling to reach a breakeven point as the inclement weather and disease coupled have hit the horticulture sector badly
“This year, the scab has hit the apple crop. Even the production, which was expected to reach an all-time high has halved now. This is going to be the worst year for apple growers,” he said.
For the second year in a row, farmers are staring at huge losses given the disease and drop in production due to substandard pesticides.
After tourism failure, people had pinned hopes on horticulture and agriculture. However, the horticulture sector too has failed this year and with the result, the growers are on the verge of bankruptcy.
“Horticulture is in doldrums and growers have gone bankrupt because of last year’s lockdown. The annual production has almost halved. Of the remaining 50 percent, the `C’ grade apple is almost 30 percent,” President North Kashmir Apple Growers Association, Fayaz Ahmad Malik told The Kashmir Monitor.
Horticulture is the backbone of Jammu and Kashmir’s economy. It contributes about 8 percent to the GDP of Jammu and Kashmir. Official figures reveal that seven lakh families are directly or indirectly involved and dependent on the horticulture industry.
At Asia’s biggest Fruit Mandi in Sopore, only 200 trucks loaded with apple and pears leave for outside state markets against last year’s 300 trucks per day.
“We would get a good number of dealers from Bangladesh and other states last year. This year, they have given Mandi amiss. Due to the lockdown, spurious pesticides flooded the valley markets which failed to control scab,” said Malik.
Parmipora Fruit Mandi Srinagar too is witnessing a slump. The export of apples has declined by more than 300 percent this year so far.
“Against 400 trucks, only 150 leave for New Delhi and Amritsar. Last year’s losses have immensely hit the dealers who couldn’t buy more apples this season. The flow of pears to this market was almost 20 percent less compared to the previous year,” said Bashir Ahmad Basheer, President Parimpora Fruit Mandi.
Amid losses, the growers pin hopes on the government for buying low-grade apple under Market Intervention Scheme to offset some losses.
“Almost 70 percent of the produce is C grade this year. We have been appealing the government to procure it under MIS,” Bashir said.
Director Horticulture Department Aijaz Ahmad Bhat told The Kashmir Monitor that they have sent a report to the divisional commissioner.
“There have been some issues like delay in sprays or excessive spraying by orchardists that could have led to the scab. Further, the hailstorm affected crops at some places,” he said.
Economists claim that the losses in horticulture, tourism, and industrial sector amid lockdown can further shrink UT’s GDP. “The year has been extremely bad for horticulture. Kashmir produces 96 percent (18, 00000 tonnes) of fresh fruit, which after export fetches Rs 3000 crore. Fifty percent means Rs 1500 crore loss,” said renowned economist Prof Nisar Ali.
He said UT won’t be able to maintain the previous record of four percent growth in the GDP given the losses in various sectors.
“Our per capita income has also dropped. The actual figures can be calculated after the end of last quarter. J&K has suffered a loss of Rs 16,000 crores in the last 21 months. Salaries of the government employees and savings of overseas workers are sustaining the market,” Ali said.