By: Abdul Basit Sheikh

India is Asia`s leading fruit producer after China. Of the variety of fruits produced in India, apples, in particular, have a high commercial value, both for domestic as well as for export markets. India is among the ten leading apple producing countries in the world. Kashmir account for 65% of India`s apple production which makes it the leading producer and supplier of apples in the Country.

Despite these impressive production figures, an estimated 30% of the apple products is lost due to poor handling, inadequate transport and lack of Climate Controlled Storage. Due to the lack of Cold storage facilities, the seasonal production deteriorates rapidly and has to be sold in the market within days. About 70% of the Crop is transported to and sold in India’s largest wholesale fruit and vegetable market at Azadpur in Delhi followed by Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmadabad, and others.

Consequently, commodity prices are low during the harvesting season as a result of over-supply. This supply begins with the harvesting season September-October, rushes in or peaks in November-December and finally ends in January-February.

Outside the harvesting season, India is forced to import apples from abroad, and are sold in the Indian market at higher prices with no local alternatives available. The consumption of apples, along with the population`s increasing purchasing power shows a rapid increase, despite the relatively high prices of imported apples outside the harvesting season.

The apple farmers in the region face a number of very serious problems with their product and their position in the market. These can be summarized in three points; Climatic/Logistical, the Import apples and the dependency on the middlemen.

1. Climate and logistical problems:

The harvesting seasons of apples in North- Western (Kashmir falls in the same region) Himalayan region is between July and November. However, for Kashmiri apple, the harvesting season is between September-November. A typical supply curve is given below for the Kashmiri apple market, with a clear peak in October-November and a rapid decline until January. Beyond that, the arrival in the market is from cold storage and some late arrivals.

The peak in October-November and a rapid decline can be streamlined; however, the months following (i.e. December & January) come with snow and chilling temperatures resulting in damaging/blocking already bad roads that are available to get the apples to market. Due to the logistical problems during the season typically 30% of the apples are lost due to spoilage and rendering the rest of the apples unfit for the Long-term storage.

2. Import Apples:

As the graphic below shows, the import apples become available on the local market as local arrivals decrease, due to the limited availability of long-term storage facilities.

Not only is the price of apples important. The nicely packed American apples might look attractive, but in general, the apples produced in the Kashmir region are qualitatively (much) better than the imported ones seen in the domestic market. Therefore, one can wonder how long the preference of imported apples based on their reputation instead of their objective quality will last?

3. Dependency on middlemen:

Marginalized and small farmers, in particular, are unable to escape the powerful grip and dependence on middlemen, informal lenders, and other intermediaries. Although there have been several attempts to assist farmers in escaping from their poverty trap, the results have been disappointing.

Loan and grant schemes, if at all they reach the individual farmers, do not have the desired effect as these schemes do not tackle the core problems of the dependence of the farmers, which brought them in poverty in the first place. As a result, most loan and grant schemes are in effect only patching solutions rather than a structural solution.

There is a desperate need of approach and strategy to tackle above the three major issues that threaten the livelihood of the farmers and thereby the economy of the region.

(The author is Manager Engineering & Operations at Fresh Food Technology India Pvt.Ltd)