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Fruit growers stare at huge losses as scab-ridden apples rot in orchards

Srinagar: Sixty-year-old farmer Ghulam Mohammad’s joy knew no bounds when he harvested a bumper apple crop this year.

 Luck however had other things in store for him.  Like his counterparts, a major portion of his crop was `C’ grade’ which sells cheap in the market.

“An apple box of grade ‘C’ costs me some Rs 100-150. Appallingly, almost 80 percent of my produce is ‘C’ grade. I am incurring losses,” Mohammad said.

Mohammad is not an isolated case. The majority of the growers are in distress as they sell their produce at throwaway prices. Spurious pesticides, unfavorable climate conditions, and pest attacks have ruined the apple crop this year.

 Though the government re-introduced Market Intervention scheme (MIS) on Wednesday, growers are not happy given the previous experience when authorities refused to buy apples blighted with a scab. 

As per the growers, nearly 70 percent of the apple produce in Kashmir belongs to category ‘C”. Growers said if it is not procured by the government, they will incur losses worth hundreds of crores.

“We are selling Grade “A” apple at Rs 800-1000 per box. However, the majority of the produce which belongs to the category “C” cost just Rs 150. We don’t even recover our maintenance cost,” President Parimpora Fruit Mandi Bashir Ahmad Basheer told The Kashmir Monitor.

He said the government has approved MIS, but their yardstick for Grade A, B, and C is completely different. “Last year, the government didn’t procure the apple which was affected by scab,” he added.

What further complicates the situation for growers is that the local canning industries are also not procuring the low-grade apple.

“It was the government, which would procure our apple and sell it to the canning industries. The situation is such that no canning industry is approaching us. We have to pay for the freight and packaging,” he said.

President North Kashmir Apple Growers Association, Fayaz Ahmad Malik said the government has been late in implementing the scheme this year.

“We have no problem with Grade A and B.  Will the government comes to our rescue by procuring Grade C apples?” he asked.

Market Intervention Scheme was introduced by the government in 2006 after facing many roadblocks. Last year, the administration extended the scheme until March 2020.

 Apple production in Kashmir has witnessed an increase over the last few decades. IN 2019, the annual production increased to 19 lakh metric tonnes from 18 lakh metric tonnes in the preceding year.

  Director Horticulture Aijaz Ahmad Bhat said the government will procure all the apples through this scheme.

A source said the government is holding a meeting today to decide whether the scab-ridden apple will be treated as C category.