The nationwide coronavirus lockdown has badly hit apple farmers in Jammu and Kashmir. As the farmers are not finding market for their produce, over three million cartons of apples are lying in cold storage.
They are rather paying Rs 35 per box per month as storage charge, and Rs 100 as packing and grading fee to save their produce from rotting. They fear incurring more loses than the value of their produce if lockdown continues as there are no buyers due to the market conditions.
The lockdown has added to their already existing problems. They had faced a complete shutdown announced by the centre last year when Article 370 was revoked. As they began operating later, their truckers were attacked by terrorists. Several truckers and apple traders were killed as part of a terror campaign to prevent apples from Kashmir to be transported to mandis outside the Union Territory.
“Last year I fetched around Rs 1200-1300 a box. Today, we are not even getting Rs 500 for the same,” said Nazir Ahmad, a farmer from Pulwama.
“Normally apple traders from different mandis of the country would come here. Now, no one is coming to buy apple,” he said.
The farmers say the lockdown has broken the supply chain.
Activities like transportation, finding market, price bargaining have taken a severe hit. Only a government bailout can help, they say.
“The apple industry is in shambles after the August 5 situation. Many of us decided to keep our produce in cold storage and sell it once the situation is better. Destiny had something different in store. We had never thought when we sell the apple, there would be a pandemic crisis across the world,” said Shakoor Ahmad, a grower.
At Lassipora, Pulwama, the largest cluster of apple cold storage facility in India, officials urge the government to announce incentives.
“If the government announces some incentives, like relaxation in interests, electricity charges, we can pass it on to growers, and they can be saved from paying for cold storage,” Farooq Ahmed, the cold storage manager, said.
The labourers from other parts of the country are stranded here. They are provided with COVID-19 protection kits, food and wages. “We are getting wages and food. We don’t face any problem here,” said a worker from Uttar Pradesh.
Kashmir produces 22 lakh metric ton of apple every year which is over 70 per cent of the country’s total production.