By: Auqib Javeed
Decrying the fact how a bad apple spoils the whole barrel, the Kashmiri growers have upped their ante against what they call the free flow of the “tax-free” Iranian apples “eating” their market share.
Kashmir valley’s apple traders and growers have expressed their resentment over this “illegal trade” via Afghanistan—resulting in huge losses.
Asia’s second-largest fruit Mandi in North Kashmir’s Sopore has already witnessed some protests over the “permitted passage of Iranian apples”.
The disgruntled apple-growers argue that the Iranian apples in large quantity have flooded Indian markets and threatened to consume Kashmir valley’s market share in the coming years unless the imported fruit is taxed.
It may be noted that both Afghanistan and India are members of the South Asian Free Trade Zone (SAFTA) and hence they do not impose duty on imports from each other.
However, Iran is not part of SAFTA but apple crop from there reach India via Afghanistan, bypassing import duties.
The “illegal trade” is also hitting the growers of Uttarakhand, Himachal, and Nagaland.
Apple is the mover and shaker of Kashmir’s Rs 10,000 crore (annually) strong Horticulture sector—employing about 2.3 million people.
Amid the growing apprehensions, resentment, and concern, Kashmir Observer spoke to President, Sopore Fruit Mandi, Fayaz Ahmad Malik aka Kakaji, to gauge the grouse of the growers.
Why’re Kashmiri apple growers suddenly up in arms against Iranian apples?
It’s a genuine concern about our livelihood. At Sopore, we recently protested against the import of Iranian apples that has flooded Indian markets. Their free flow has created a low demand for our apple cart.
But how has the import affected the prices of apple?
Well, a Kashmiri apple box in this season would be sold at Rs1000-1200, but the rate has gone down. We’ve no option but to sell it at Rs 600 or 700 now. The price for the high-quality apple in cold storages has also fallen.
It’s happening because the Iranian apple is imported to India via Afghanistan, and from Dubai via Gujarat in ships. As a result, our produce remains unsold.
Some reports say Iranian apple are more delicious than Kashmir apple, is it true?
No, you won’t find the quality of Kashmiri apple anywhere in the world. Yes, the customers prefer to buy them since they’re cheaper. If a product is low-priced, it’s natural for people to opt for that and that is happening in this case.
Do the cold-stored Kashmiri apple crop remain unsold, or are they running now?
Apple worth crores of rupees are lying unsold in different cold stores across Kashmir and in different Mandis of India due to low demand. Currently, there’re around 1.75 crore unsold boxes at apple markets in Kashmir. In running, there must be around 1-1.5 crore and some 2.5 crore boxes in outside apple stores.
If the fruit remains unsold, it will rot. Plus, in Kashmir, we’ve to pay more if the product remains in cold stores.
How long can an apple remain in cold storage without affecting its quality?
In Kashmir, we can store apples for 4-6 months, while in New Delhi or other states, it can be stored for 3-4 months only without affecting its quality.
Did you raise the issue with the government?
It’s up to the central government. We’ve no influence over them. We’ve written many letters to the Horticulture Ministry but there’s no response. We’ve also sought a meeting with the Lieutenant Governor, but he’s out of station right now.
Our only grouse is that the Iranian apple is imported tax-free via Afghanistan. The product is being sold in the name of Afghanistan. Since Iran has been sanctioned by the US, it can’t export its produce to European markets, except for few. So, they export more products to Asian Countries. Due to some trade treaty, it’s taken in India.
If it’s taxed, it would enter India in limited quantities. The import has affected the business of apple growers from Himachal Pradesh as well.
If this ‘free flow’ continues, what does the future hold for Kashmiri apple crop?
This is our apprehension. And that’s why we’re protesting. You can understand that if Iranian apples are imported without levying any import duty, our apple industry is gone.
On the other hand we’ve bank loans. We’re unable to re-pay them. If the current trend continues in the future, our apple industry will take a big hit.