ZT Times Special Report

Surprising it is, but it is a fact that about 70% of the total intake of the apple fruit is today lying in Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storages in Kashmir due to the unprecedented disruption in the Srinagar-Jammu Highway. Farmers, traders and private branded apple companies are unable to meet the supply requests from other mandis in the country because they are simply unable to send their fruit to the mandis at the desired time.

The mismatch between the time of requests received and the time apple consignments reach the destinations is huge, making the farmers fetch much less price for their produce than expected. Although the professionally-run Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storages at sites like Lassipora in Kashmir have significantly enhanced the price competitiveness, presentation and quality of the apples in Kashmir, the intense delays caused in transportation on Srinagar-Jammu highway have brought the apple industry on the brink of a crisis.

In order to understand the challenges of the growers and the management of Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storages, last week Ziraat Times spoke to farmers across Kashmir and visited the Lassipora-based CA storages. The findings from the exercise are chilling. The cost of production of quality apples is consistently going up due to the general inflationary tendencies in Kashmir market today. The longer the storage period, the more costs the production costs to farmers.

Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storages in Kashmir, run mostly by young and highly-talented entrepreneurs, have revolutionised the apple industry in Kashmir. More and more farmers are now embracing the CA storages to store their fruit and supply to markets in harmony with demand and good prices. Educated young people,  who had begun to look for jobs beyond horticulture, are starting value-added businesses.

The Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storages at Lassipora alone presently employ about 10,500 people. Many of the stor owners have plans of expansion, which would inevitably create more jobs for local educated youngsters. The farmers and the managers of the Controlled Atmosphere (CA) storages are today a worried lot. They demand that government treat the disruption caused by the Srinagar-Jammu highway in their supply chain on high priority. If the disruptions are not addressed on priority, growers and businesses fears that the Rs 9000 crore industry, providing lakhs of livelihoods and upper end jobs, could be in jeopardy. 

Ziraat Times in this edition features industry’s key players – growers, businesses, traders, etc. – highlighting their difficulties, achievements and the potential for further growth. 

How much is the apple production?

According to the latest figures made available by the Horticulture Department, Jammu & Kashmir 24.30 lakh metric tons of fruit production has been recorded during 2018 in the state, out of which 21.61 lakh metric tons were produced in Kashmir division.

Apple is the most important fruit crop of J&K State, with about 48% of the area is covered under apple as per the horticulture census 2016-17. It is also important in terms of production (17.26 lakh Mts.) and provides the maximum marketable surplus of about 30% of A grade, 40% of B-grade and 30% of C grade of pre falls and culled apples which accounts for substantial quantum of around 5.18 lakh Mts. which needs to be exploited as raw material for processing industry.

The Revolutionary Role of Controlled Atmosphere (CA) Stores

Controlled Atmosphere storages have played a crucial role in not only attracting educated young people towards the apple industry but also in enhancing quality and productivity.

What J&K government is doing to promote post-harvest management, including development of CA stores

J&K Government has lately paid special attention towards Post-Harvest Management (PHM) of apples.  Keeping in view the wastages at various stages, Govt. is concentrating on development of post-harvest infrastructure like cold storage, pack houses and intensive training programme on Post-HarvestManagement (PHM) of horticulture crops. In 2017 over 90, 000 MTs of Controlled Atmosphere Store/Cold store capacity was available in the State.

Subsidy amounting to Rs. 84.175 crore was provided to 7 CA stores under MIDH/PMDP since April, 2014. 

In September 2018, the State Administrative Council (SAC) approved the proposal of Horticulture Department for facilitating private players to establish more Controlled Atmosphere stores (CA) stores in the State by providing additional back ended subsidy support.

Private entrepreneurs are being encouraged to establish more CA stores in the J&K State, thus increasing the withholding capacity of orchardists for ‘A” grade Apple as result of which supply of Apples can be regulated for better returns to the orchardists by providing 33% back ended subsidy (Max. upto Rs. 7.26 Crore on pro rata basis) on establishment of 5000 MT capacity CA storage facility in addition to the back-ended subsidy already available under the centrally sponsored scheme Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture.

The additional subsidy support is being provided to 10 CA stores of at least 5000 MTs capacity each, which shall be coming up in the state during two years, i.e. 2018-19 and 2020-21.

Parimpora CA Store

A new CA store is, however, coming up at Parimpora, Srinagar. The New Kashmir Fruit Growers Association is constructing a 5000 metric ton controlled atmospheric (CA) store for the preservation of fruits with an estimated cost of 260 million rupees (3.4 mln euros), borne by the fruit dealers union itself. A memorandum of understanding has been signed between the Horticulture Department and the New Kashmir Fruit Growers Association by virtue of which Horticulture Department has leased out land to the Association, while all the development expenditure will be borne by the fruit dealers cum growers union themselves for establishing the CA store.

What experts say government should avoid doing 

Industry experts believe that government agencies, given their track record of efficiency and profitability, should be discouraged from setting up controlled atmosphere (CA) stores in Kashmir. They believe this activity is being efficiently and professionally being run by private players, and that the policy focus should be on improving the participation and capacity of the private players in the area.

Pertinently, J&K State Agro Industries Development Corporation, which was running such a cold store at Srinagar, had to close down the facility and its machinery was put to auction. Now the Corporation is proposing to set up 1500 MTs capacity C.A. Store at Lal Mandi where the civil structure is already existing. A similar C.A.Store is proposed to be set up at Bari-Brahamana, Jammu, which again is seen as a waste of precious resources. 

Why the focus has to be on augmenting the CA store capacity

Presently, about 5 % of the total apple production is said to be accommodated in the existing CA stores. Information accessed by Ziraat Times indicates that the government has also set out to augment or develop 36 fruit and vegetable markets in Kashmir at a revised estimated cost of Rs. 205 crore. Experts believe that such a large investment in creating physical assets without modern technology, like controlled atmospherics, may not serve the purpose entirely.

While North Kashmir produces 397675.61 MT of apple annually, with Baramulla being the highest producer at 172813 MT, of the three cold storage units located in the district, only one is fully functional with a capacity of 3000 MT.

What problems CA stores are facing

The biggest challenge that CA stores are facing currently is the mismatch of time of requisition of apple supplies from other parts of country and the actual time of receipt of the consignment at destinations. 

Sixteen major hubs are to be regularly served with apple supplies, which include Azadpur Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Jaipur, Patna, Kolkata, Lucknow, Kanpur, Agra, Varanasi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Indore, Hyderabad and Chennai. 

The blockade, traffic disruption and mismanagement on Srinagar-Jammu highway do not allow consignments to reach in time to these places. As a consequence, Ziraat Times ground surveys indicate, about 70% of the total apple fruit stored in the CA stores in Kashmir remains in the stores itself as of March 2019.

Controlled Atmosphere Industry Leaders Speak

Majid Wafaai

Majid Wafaai
(MD, Shaheen Agro Fresh Pvt. Ltd )

This industry is in the inception stage and we likely believe that in the next 2 or 4 years our capacity would reach 2 lakh tonnes and after that we will further draw of strategies. 

We have support from the government in terms of subsidies and it motivates entrepreneurs to set up Cold Chain Units. There are challenges in Kashmir like the biggest challenge we face is with road connectivity. There are small framers/marginal farmers who are affected by the road crisis. We cannot plan our consignments due to road blockade. We are told to move twice a week. We face loss since apples are perishable goods once they are shipped and struck in the highway. We request the government to at least have no restrictions on fruit trucks.

What we need from the government on priority

First, we request them to help us in free movement of fruit trucks. If they gave us a time corridor (1 am to 5 am), it can be helpful. 

Second, we have issues with the power supply. We had load shedding for 4 hours but due to the intervention of DC Pulwama, we have got some relief.

Khuram Mir

Khuram Mir
(Chief Executive HN Agriserve)

Khuram Mir is the Founder and Chief Executive of HN Agriserve (P) Ltd. He says it is his passion to make a difference in the lives of Kashmiri farmers that is what brought him back to Kashmir after spending a decade in the United States. An Industrial and Operations Research Engineer by profession, Khuram has a background in supply chain strategy, lean manufacturing, energy, and agriculture sectors.

Since 2008, Khurram has been working closely with Kashmiri farmers in coaching, mentoring, and motivating them to dream big and create a world of endless possibilities. 

Sana Masood

Sana Masood
(Harshna Naturals)

Only 30% of the total produce that is stored in Cold storages in Lassipoira is flushed to the market out of the total that’s stored. We cannot put everything out in the market, it has to go with the pace. and that’s how a farmer can get good returns as well. And now there are days when there is nothing in the market and then there are days when they have more than what they need. Due to which, the farmer is hit the big time. 

Izhan Javed

Izhan Javed
(CEO, Fruit Master Agro)

A lot of people have invested sweat and resources to create this success story. The three major challenges right now faced by us are:

1. Non seriousness of government towards plight of growers as fruit is not being sent to the markets due to closure of the national highway we are only left with two days for loading.

2. The fruit that we dispatch is either rotting on way or even if it reaching the market it is fetching meagre prices. 

3. Non-availability of round-the-clock electricity making us incur huge expenditure on running large fuel generators.

Uzair Javed

Uzair Javed
Fruitmaster Agro Fresh Pvt Ltd.

It has been 6 months we stored the apples in our CA stores and we are not able to push the consignments to the market. It has a specific age for storage. We cannot store all of it for a much longer period. This fruit has to go to all over India. And the increase in temperature has an impact on the prices later.

Usually, 5th month onwards we prefer to flush it out. However, more than 50% of the fruit is still in the CA store. We can cater to the local market by our own logistics but not the whole country with each day passing, we will lose the Southern market and that might have an impact on prices.

The growers might actually suffer due to issues with the road.  We couldn’t push anything in the month of January to March. With the rise in temperature in the rest of the states in the country, the fruit once will reach will be ripened and will have an impact on prices.

People need to understand that the fruit industry runs this place. If we hit it hard, this industry will go on the decline. Growers are under mental pressure. When we talk about solutions, I understand army convoys are important. But at what cost?

We have been talking to everyone but nobody is listening. As a grower, I am suffering big time. I have huge expenses ahead and I’m not able to flush the apples into the market.

Umar Jan

Mohammad Umar Jan

Mohammad Umar Jan
(MD, Golden Apple)

The immediate issue we have is road closure. Once we take out the produce from CA stores, it has to reach to the market as soon as possible. If it remains in transit, all the freshness that is retained in CA stores will be lost and it won’t even fetch a good price at all and hence our grower suffers. There is an inconsistency of electricity in winters and the cost of running the generators for the period is high. It has a financial impact on our operations. 

This industry is growing. We are operating in full capacity and even we have to say no to many of the growers and I can assure that if we have double the capacity what we have right now, it can be easily accommodated because farmers are aware now as it’s a value addition to their produce. 

Our Industrial estate is off route and then blockage of the highway for two days, NOC’s from Pollution board and other things.

The staff that we have is mainly local. But when we talk about labor for packaging and grading. There should be a skill-building program from Government at least. 

Mr. Mushtaq Ahmad

Mr Mushtaq Ahmad
(Director, Al-Noor Agri Fresh (P) Ltd.)

We are a Cold Storage Company run by the Team of Experts and Headed by people who believe in a successful future. We provide services to Kashmiri Growers. We are trying to help you in “Keeping Nature in Better Mood”

Road connectivity has been an issue. Nobody speaks about it and even the Horticulture department isn’t able to intervene in it. We have another project coming up here and we are trying to cater to the demands of the growers because there is a huge increase in demand.

But the issues that we have, mostly go unnoticed and nothing is done at the governmental level. the best example to understand it would the bridge that connects Lassipora to the main road/town

Valley Fresh Agro Farms  

There is a vast Out of total production we have only 4% is stored in CA stores. We have challenges with Electricity, connectivity with road and the recent announcement of highway blockage has added to it. For industrial estate, there shouldn’t be curtailment.

There should be basic First aid in the estate as well. In case of emergencies, we have to rush to Pulwama hospital. Primary healthcare should be given importance and we should have one here.