Government Apathy Impedes Kashmir Apple’s Export Prospects
Traders lament that the government isn’t serious about the apple trade and that the cosmetic measures will do little to support the industry.
SOPORE — In 2018, Asif Ali, a representative of a Bangladeshi business firm Gareeb Nawaz, visited Sopore fruit Mandi where he was sold apples valued at Rs 2.85 crore by a local apple trader Ghulam Mohiuddin Dar.
Ali paid Rs 1.5 crore in cash and promised to pay the remaining amount once the apples reach Bangladesh. Mohiuddin’s 18 apple-loaded trucks reached Bangladesh, but Asif has since disappeared without paying the rest.
Mohiuddin filed an FIR following which Police tracked Ali’s phone, which revealed he was in Jammu. Mohiuddin contacted Jammu police, however, the police in Jammu were unable to locate him, stating, “It is impossible to locate Ali because his phone revealed a location in ‘a densely populated area’.”
Mohiuddin lost hope and realized that Ali had disappeared – forever.
“The profit margin is higher in the international market than in the domestic market, which is why people are lured into it,” Mohiuddin explained. However, “after I lost Rs 1.35 Crore, I quit doing international trade.”
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Despite the fact that apple traders double their profits by trading with the international market, only about 20-25 apple traders in Sopore fruit mandi export their products. The reason is the risks involved in the trade and the apathy of the government.
The Sopore Mandi is South Asia’s largest fruit Mandi, covering more than 50 acres of horticulture land in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. The traders in the Mandi have been trading apples to Bangladesh for 15 years, but there is no guarantee to their money.
The traders said that they have taken up the issue with the authorities and ministers many times in the past, but nothing has changed.
Mudasir Ahmad, the president of the Sopore Mandi Buyers’ Organisation, said, “We’ve asked the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committees) and the director of horticulture several times to intervene and address the problem, but they don’t pay heed.”
According to the Jammu and Kashmir government, Kashmir exports around 20 lakh metric tons of apple produce every year and the apple industry is expected to be worth around Rs 9000 crore including the employment it generates.
More than 15,000 people are employed by the Sopore fruit Mandi and every day, during the harvesting season, more than 500 apple trucks leave from the Mandi.
Every year, a businessman named Mohammad Ashraf Bhat said, he sends apples worth Rs 25 Crores to Bangladesh and Nepal. “There’s an 80 percent chance that your payment may be delayed for months, or you’ll lose all of your money.”
Ashraf is among the first traders to have started exporting apples from Sopore Mandi to Bangladesh, 15 years ago.
But, over the years Ashraf has realized that the trade is riskier than the profit it fetches. Ashraf once lost Rs 20 lakhs when a foreign buyer refused to give him money. Ashraf couldn’t help himself.
He believes that if their trade was backed by the government, it would have been safe, but there is no support structure in place in Kashmir for traders willing to export their apples.
Another apple trader from Sopore, Mushtaq Ahmad, said he wants to engage in foreign trade, but he is hesitant due to the amount of risk and lack of adequate support structure.
Last year, Ashraf said, he sent an apple truck to Bangladesh valued at Rs 18 lakh. When the vehicle arrived in Kolkata, Ashraf received a call from the buyer, informing him that the order had been cancelled. “I had to return to Delhi and sell the apples for peanuts,” Ashraf said.
After the abrogation of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state’s special status on August 5, 2019, the union government has claimed that the famed Kashmiri apples are being exported to the Middle East market. LuLu Group, which runs more than 180 hypermarkets and shopping malls across the Middle East, had shipped 10 containers (200 tonnes) of three apple varieties.
In December 2020, a delegation of farmers, fruit growers, businessmen, and officials of Jammu and Kashmir reached Dubai to tap the Gulf market for the Kashmiri apple and other horticulture produce.
The team participated in the 4-days UAE-India Food Security Summit 2020 that began on 7 December. Naveen Choudhary, Principal Secretary, Agriculture and Farmers Welfare led the delegation to the event.
Traders, on the other hand, lament that the government isn’t serious about the apple trade and that the cosmetic measures will do little to support the industry.
Rather than reaching out to people in the Gulf, the government could have created a system to protect Kashmiri apple producers’ trade in Bangladesh and Nepal markets.
According to a well-known apple merchant, strengthening the already-explored markets will lead to opportunities in other countries.
Vishesh Mahajan, Director Horticulture Planning and Marketing told Mountain Ink that he has joined the post in 2021 and as of now he hasn’t come across any such complaint. “If traders have issues they can come to me and we will see what we can do,” he said.
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Aaliya Shalla is a trainee staff writer at the Mountain Ink. She is a pass out of Multimedia & Mass Communication from the Govt. Degree College, Baramulla.