Apple growers in Himachal worried, see huge rivalry from Kashmir

Shimla: Apple growers in Himachal are a worried lot. Reason: They see a huge competition coming their way from Kashmir in a few years from now that could hit the state’s apple economy.

Kashmir, at the moment, is in the middle of a massive state-backed transformation from traditional practice of apple growing to high density apple plantation (HDAP) that is going to enhance its yield manifolds and improve the quality as well.

“Kashmir’s imports have crossed 12 lakh plants per year. In a few years, it would produce a new generation of higher quality fruit in very large volumes, killing the value of our fruit,” said the Plum Growers Forum (PGF) in the recently held meeting of the task force constituted by the government to transform the fruit and vegetable farming in the state. The task force comprises officials from the Horticulture Department, scientists from University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni, and representatives from PFG and NABARD.

“Until now, we had big advantage over Kashmir in terms of variety. We had Red Delicious, an American variety, and they had a local variety (Amri),” said Deepak Singha, the founder of PGF. “Now, the era of the Red Delicious variety is coming to an end and the HDAP is the way forward. Kashmir is moving a lot faster than us and will pose a serious challenge to us in a few years.”

So, what is keeping Himachali orchardists from making the switch and modernising their farms for better yield and quality? According to the PGF, the “obsolete” standard operating procedures (SOPs) for importing high-yielding new generation plants from abroad is the biggest hurdle in the way. “In J&K, there are private implementation agencies that are allowed to import and then set up plants in the orchards of small and marginal farmers. In Himachal, the obsolete process needs to be revamped to make it effective and useful for smaller and marginal farmers,” said Sanjay Mehta, a PGF member.

The other advantage Kashmiri orchardists have is comprehensive financial support from the government and financial institutions in modernising or setting up the high density plantation farm. “Kashmiri orchardists are getting far better financial packages than our farmers. We need to offer term loans on the line of business loans to farmers for modernising their farms. Besides, the value of land and its produce needs to be revised for a better collateral value while applying for loans,” said Singha.

While acknowledging the looming Kashmir threat, Lokinder Bisht, president, Progressive Growers Association, points out another challenge for the Himachal apple. “The import of cheap and inferior-quality apple from Iran and Turkey is also hurting. It’s available at a price as low as Rs 60 in India and has already captured the Southern market because Himachali apple can’t compete with it at that rate,” said Bisht. “Besides, because of the poor farm practices in these two countries, there’s a possibility of pests and viruses arriving with their fruit. We had written to the Commerce Ministry to look into it,” he added.

SOPs ‘obsolete’

Kashmir is in the midst of shifting from traditional to high density apple plantation that will enhance its yield and improve quality. Himachal, on the other hand, hasn’t moved swiftly. According to the Plum Growers Forum, “obsolete” standard operating procedures (SOPs) for importing high-yielding new generation plants from abroad is the biggest hurdle in the state. (The Tribune) 

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