Kashmiri apples now have competition as Jammu apple growers reap rich harvest

About 5-6 villages, nestled about 150 km away from Jammu amid the mountains in Udhampur district, have been growing apples for 4-5 decades. But, they have been using the produce only for local consumption. That is now changing

Deepak KhajuriaDeepak Khajuria   4 Nov 2019 6:02 AM GMT

Kashmiri apples now have competition as Jammu apple growers reap rich harvest

You have, perhaps, relished the red, juicy apples from Kashmir, but chances are you have never tasted those grown in nearby Jammu because they're not available in the market. You will get to soon.

About 5-6 villages in the Latti-Dhuna area, nestled about 150 km away from Jammu amid the mountains in Udhampur district, have also -- just like most of Kashmir -- been growing apples for 4-5 decades. But they have been using the produce only for local consumption, never exploiting it commercially. That is changing.

Beginning of an apple story

"We have been growing apples for many years," said Master Kasturi Lal Gupta, 62, the sarpanch (village head) of Latti. "But neither the government nor the big traders knew that we produce apple. Earlier this year, the minister of state in the Prime Minister's office, Dr Jitendra Singh, who is also our member of Parliament in Lok Sabha, tweeted a picture from his handle in September about the apple growers of Udhampur district," he said. "That was the beginning of our apple story."

Gupta said after he was elected sarpanch in 2018, he motivated farmers in his village to grow apples in large quantity to sell them. "Earlier, our main crop was maize, but now have started growing apples," said Mohammad Yunis, who has a big apple orchard in Jammu.

Farmers in Jammu have started growing apples in large quantity.

Farmers in Jammu have started growing apples in large quantity.

These 5-6 villages in Jammu that produce many varieties of apples, like Delicious, Maharaja, Rasakwadi and American and Golden Apples, that are traditionally grown in Sopore in north Kashmir and Shopian in south Kashmir. This year, farmers of the tiny Latti village, which has a population of 7,000, have sold 20,000 metric tonnes of apple to traders in Jammu, which has the biggest fruit market in Jammu & Kashmir. Traders from outside purchase apples from the market in bulk. Soon, the apples will reach other places in the country, giving them the first taste of dark-red and watery-green apples that are grown in Jammu.

"It's good that farmers in Udhampur and Jammu have started apple-farming," said RK Katoch, joint director, horticulture department, Jammu. "The hilly belts in Jammu, like Latti, Dudu, Basantgarh, Bhaderwah and Kishtwar, have climatic conditions similar to the Kashmir valley. Earlier, people here grew apple only for personal consumption and not for trading. So, this is a welcome move. This year, we have had a bumper crop from this region, so it's good for them too."

Shamsher Singh, a sarpanch who also grows apples, said the region also produces sour apples that are used for making apple jams. "Earlier, no one took us seriously as apple-growers, but now we will prove that we can give a tough competition to apple-growers from Kashmir. We are in touch with officials from the horticulture department and with the administration so that we can expand our reach."

Farmers in Jammu are hoping the government will buy apples directly from them.

Farmers in Jammu are hoping the government will buy apples directly from them.

Traders are happy

The traders at Jammu's Narwal fruit market are happy that farmers from the region have started selling apples. "We are happy that traders from this belt have also started growing apples commercially. It will provide more variety and quantity, which is good for our business," said Vinod Kumar, a fruit trader. "These villages can set an example for villagers living in other apple-growing belts of Jammu. Once the state becomes a Union Territory, we are hoping that the horticulture department will introduce some new schemes for farmers," said Vinod.

Both Jammu and Kashmir became Union territories on October 31, 2019.

The farmers are hopeful that after the reorganisation, they will get to avail of the benefits of centrally-sponsored schemes in general and those for apple-growers in particular. They are hoping the government will buy apples directly from them. They say this will help them make Jammu also famous for apples just like Kashmir.

"We are happy with the new status of Jammu and Kashmir. If we will get good rates for our apples, what else do we need?" said Parvez Ahmed, an apple-grower. "If we get help from the government, we are capable of competing with the apple-growers from Kashmir," said Yunis. Dr Piyush Singla, the district commissioner of Udhampur, visited various apple orchards and has assured help to farmers.

This year, apple export has fallen by about 1.35 lakh metric tonnes.

This year, apple export has fallen by about 1.35 lakh metric tonnes.

Peace in Jammu

Apple growers in Jammu also plan to make the most of the relative calm in the region compared to Kashmir. In Kashmir, terrorists have been targeting truck drivers, gunning some of them down while they were on their way to local markers transporting apples from the valley.

"Peace prevails in the Jammu region," said Mohammad Aslam, who is among the biggest apple growers in the region having between 500 and 1,000 apple trees in his orchard. "The soil here is good. The climate is good, too. All we need is some support from the government, which they have assured they will provide," he says.

Fall in apple export

This year, apple export has fallen by about 1.35 lakh metric tonnes, in the wake of the communication blockade and restrictions imposed after the special status for Jammu and Kashmir was revoked on August 5.

Jammu and Kashmir apple growers have exported 4.50 lakh metric tonnes of the fruit till October 9, compared with 5.79 lakh metric tonnes last year. Officials, however, are hopeful the export will rise between October and December, when 70% of the apple harvest is exported every year.

According to data provided by the government, Kashmir exports about 20 lakh metric tonnes of apple every year and the horticulture industry is said to be worth about Rs 8,000-9000 crore if one also takes into account the employment it generates.

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