After a lean season last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Himachal Pradesh’s apple growers were hoping business would pick up this time, but their hopes have been dashed as rates in the wholesale fruit market have nosedived in the past fortnight due to a glut amid low demand.
In two weeks, apple prices have gone down by ₹800 to ₹1,000 a box. The high grade Royal Delicious that was being sold at ₹3,000 a box of 20kg at the beginning of the season in July is now not fetching even ₹2,000 a box.
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The average rate of the Royal variety of apples has also dropped to ₹1,200 to ₹1,500 a box, resulting in losses to growers. Apple growers say they spend ₹300 to ₹400 a box on plucking, grading, packing, washing and transporting the fruit to the wholesale market.
One of the major contributors to the lack of demand for apples in markets is the low disposable income in the middle and lower middle classes. With most industries reporting a cut in jobs due to lack of demand, many people have ended up without jobs. Covid restrictions along with the recent floods and excessive rain are also to blame,” said Abhinav Jaggi, the owner of a private fruit supply chain.
Commission agents delaying payments
The growers also blamed the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC) and the government of inaction as commission agents manipulated prices.
Sanjay Chauhan, a former Shimla mayor who is also an orchardist and secretary of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, said the expensive packaging material had dealt a blow to apple growers.
“There is loot in the market. Payments are being delayed, loading and unloading charges are being fixed at whim and there is 2.5% bank charge. On top of that, roads are in a bad shape, hampering transportation. Farmers have to pay double for such stretches and some highways are worse than link roads. Last year, there was a landslide at Bhattakufar market, but APMC hasn’t removed the debris even after a year,” said Chauhan.
Another orchardist from Thanedhar, Basant Lal, said apple growers were being charged ₹20 at Narkanda market but the APMC was yet to act. “Payments are delayed for months. The government must intervene. The commission agents have increased loading and unloading charges, while payments for sale are being delayed and the agents are now charging bank surcharge. But at the same time, they don’t pay any interest for delay in payments,” said Hardyal Sharma, an apple grower from Rohru.
Hail hit crops in lower hills
Pratap Singh from Madhavani said orchardists whose crop was hit by hailstorm were the worst hit as their apples are fetching low prices. “This year, the lower elevations had a bumper fruit, but due to the lack of size and colour development, they are not fetching a good price. Apple growing areas suffered one of the worst droughts in years. The rates are not up to our expectations. Apple growers from the middle and even higher reaches have started harvesting due to the drought and this has further caused a fall in the market rates,” Lokinder Singh Bisht, the president of the Progressive Growers Association (PGA).
Shimla APMC secretary Om Prakash said if farmers submit a complaint in writing against commission agents flouting norms, action will be taken. He said the APMC has its people deployed in every market. The farmers can directly complaint to them, he added.
Apple fact check
Apples produced in Himachal Pradesh start arriving in the market in mid-July. Kinnaur apples are last to harvested in October.
The ₹6,000-crore apple economy of Himachal Pradesh is the mainstay of 1.75 lakh families.
Shimla district produces 70% of the total apples in the state, followed by Kullu and Kinnaur.
Apple is produced over 1.25 lakh hectares in the state with a productivity as low as 3-4 tonnes per hectare.
The state generally contributes 30-40% of the total apple produced in India, followed by Kashmir, which is at the top with 50% of the produce.