Apple growers have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention.
“India is one of the world’s largest producers of Apple and about 70 percent of households in the UT of J&K are directly or indirectly dependent on apple trade. Apple industry is the backbone of the economies in both J&K (UT) and Himachal Pradesh,” reads a part of the letter addressed to PM Modi.
In January 2021, Fruit growers from South Kashmir’s Shopian district sold each 16-kg box of apples for Rs. 1,000.
A year later in 2022, the price has plunged to Rs. 500. The growers attribute the declining demand for Kashmiri apples to “illegal” import of Iranian apples.
“I would earn Rs.8 lakh annually from apple production. As there is less demand for Kashmiri apples this year, I have earned just Rs. 1.5 lakh this season. I am paying to keep unsold apples in cold storage but how long can I afford it,” exclaimed a worried Fruit vendor Ahmad.
Apple growers’ anxiety has grown over the past one month. The declining demand for Kashmiri apples, they say, belies claims and promises made by the Narendra Modi-led government of promoting local traders and farmers.
Seven lakh families depend directly or indirectly on horticulture which contributes seven percent to the Gross Domestic Product of Jammu and Kashmir.
More than 3.38 lakh hectares of land is under the fruit cultivation in the valley. Of which 1.62 lakh hectares is under the apple cultivation.
“Illegal” import of cheap Iranian apples has destroyed demand for Kashmiri apples, resulting in three crore apple boxes lying unsold in Kashmir.
Each box of Iranian apples of 16 kg is being sold for less than Rs. 600. Apple growers in Kashmir are demanding imposition of 100 percent import duty on Iranian apples.
Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union President Basher Ahmad says in view of sanctions on Iran over trade, Iran sends its apples though Afghanistan and Dubai by bypassing import duties.
Iran is also not part of SAFTA either.
The Government should either ban illegal import or increase import duty to protect Kashmiri fruit growers.
He sees it as complicity, if not conspiracy, to weaken the economy of Kashmir and benefit a particular company.
“When rates of Kashmiri apples go down, a particular company will procure these apples at very low rates.
Import of Iranian apples seems to be part of the racket to benefit this company,” he claimed, refusing to name the company.
Apple growers believe Iranian apples arriving illegally will result in a loss of Rs. 400 crore to apple growers and traders this season, if immediate measures are not taken.