The Horticulture sector is one of the most important sectors in Jammu and Kashmir as it contributes significantly to the economy of Kashmir. It is a demand driven sector and provides employment to lakhs of people directly as well as indirectly. Horticulture sector is considered the backbone of the rural economy in contemporary times because the majority of the population in rural villages are involved in the horticulture sector. The Kashmir valley is very famous for its fruit crops and grows almost all kinds of fruits with ample varieties. The ample varieties of each fruit crop with good quality provides multiple choices to all consumers. The horticulture sector of Kashmir valley has earned a unique name and fame all over the world due to various good qualities of fruits like sweet taste, good size, shape, impressive colour and nutrient enrichment. The fruit crops grown in Kashmir valley are particularly apple, almonds, walnut, cherry, peach, apricots, plum etc. The apple fruit crop is the most dominant fruit crop among all other fruit crops in the Kashmir valley. The Jammu and Kashmir horticulture department has been continuously conducting awareness and training programmes among fruit growers about the importance of high-density plantation, benefits available under various government schemes like Modified High Density plantation scheme. The main aim behind training and awareness programmes is to make the horticulture sector the most profitable and demand driven sector and to enhance the production, productivity and quality of fruits for competition at the international markets. It also aims at poverty alleviation and employment generation among the people of Jammu and Kashmir. For the past one decade, The horticulture department has adopted a multipronged strategy for enhancing the yield and quality of fruits and more fertile agricultural land in Kashmir valley have been brought under the horticulture farming under the Modified High Density Plantation Scheme that definitely increased quantity and quality of fruit production particularly apple fruits. Although farmers had benefited more significantly in the initial years, for the last many years, the apple industry in the Kashmir valley has been sinking towards the bottom. Since 2019, the apple growers and other people associated with fruit business in the valley faced many problems and many progressive farmers and businesspersons suffered heavy loss due to various reasons. The progressive farmers particularly associated with apple gardening lost all hopes, and many farmers decided to cut their apple gardens. Although, the Jammu and Kashmir government and the horticulture department provided some help, counselling and guidance to dismayed farmers and businesspersons but the challenges farmers were witnessing left them dejected and upset. Despite quality production of apples in Kashmir valley, the progressive fruit growers are very dismayed and upset due to low rates in the markets. Low rates for fruits particularly apple fruits in outside markets and other challenges facing fruit growers of Kashmir valley may force progressive growers to close their fruit cultivation in future and they may replace it by paddy, maize, wheat and pulses cultivation if present situation continues. The present situation of apple growers is very grave in Kashmir valley as no one is ready to buy their apple fruit crops. Almost all apple growers in Kashmir valley have not yet sold their good quality bumper apple crops due to very low price challenges. The quality apples are falling down from the trees in apple gardens of apple growers.
It is pertinent to mention here that for the last five days, a video was circulated on social media platforms particularly on the Facebook in which a high-density apple grower in Kashmir valley is vigorously shaking his own high-density apple laden trees for destruction of apple fruits. The main reason for shaking his own apple-laden trees was the very low rate of quality apples in the markets of the country. It is very unfortunate that the officials of the horticulture department have not even made a single comment on it. The officials of the concerned department sitting silent on the grave issue facing the farmers and not commenting on low rates in outside markets will only send a shock wave among progressive farmers having bumper crops. It will also stop unemployed educated youth towards the horticulture sector. The apple growers in the valley have already faced other challenges that incurred huge losses and expenditures. The unfavourable climatic conditions like intermittent raining, hailstorm, cold temperature during flowering period and untimely snowfall wreaked havoc and huge damage to the apple gardens of growers. The harsh weather conditions also gave rise to many bacterial, fungal and viral diseases to their fruit trees. High cost and substandard fertilizers, pesticides added further woes to the apple growers of Kashmir valley. High cost of packaging material and high transport charges are other challenges that farmers are always facing here. Despite the good quality of Kashmir valley apples, what are the reasons behind the low rate of apples in the markets? Many reasonable questions arise in the minds of common people like is the job of horticulture department confined only to training and awareness programmes? Can farmers shift to some other crops instead of fruit crops in future? Can the horticulture department come to the rescue of farmers at this crucial time? Will the government and horticulture department save its revenue-generating horticulture sector by communicating with the central government and fruit traders? Will the central government save the livelihood of people in the valley through the announcement of a special market intervention scheme? The central government in particular and Jammu and Kashmir government in general are only options for the apple growers and businesspersons at current time. They can launch special market Intervention schemes for apple growers. Promotion of Kashmiri apples instead of imported apples across India is the need of the hour. The Prime minister’s ambition on doubling the farmers’ income is of no value unless farmers’ quality fruit crops will not get the right prices. It is the high time for the Jammu and Kashmir government to make procurement of apples from apple growers that will address their issues related to marketing and transportation. Let us hope the concerned will wake up very soon and save the upset farmers and horticulture sector from dying.
(The author is a teacher at Govt Boys Higher Secondary School Beerwah. Views are exclusively his own)