Jammu & Kashmir Bank Comes To Apple Growers’ Rescue

Jammu & Kashmir Bank Comes To Apple Growers’ Rescue

9 May 2013
Hindu Business Line
L. N. Revathy

Coimbatore: Apple growers in Jammu and Kashmir valley are today probably a happy lot compared to five years ago. Thanks to Jammu and Kashmir Bank initiatives, thousands of apple growers in the valley are now free from the clutches of non-banking intermediaries. Nazir Ahmed Dar, for instance, is a small apple grower of Seer Jageer Sopore. Ahmed says in a message that his annual fruit returns would just be enough to cover his basic needs until a few years ago. ‘I couldn’t think of owning a vehicle to carry the fruits to outside markets. But within one year of getting financial assistance from the bank, I saw the drastic improvement in my financial situation. I became self-reliant and have since created many assets.’ Mohammed Ramzan Mir of Sopore expressed that his profits almost doubled in 12 months of availing the Apple Advance from the bank. ‘Private money lenders charged 20 per cent as their commission. I am able to save this now. That’s not all. Even in the purchase of fertilisers and fungicides, we are able to save 10-20 per cent as we make the payment in cash now,’ says Mir. Elsewhere in the valley at Lassipora in Pulwama, Ehsaan Javed, a law graduate, speaks with awe about his farmer-driven Integrated Controlled Atmosphere Cold Storage Project – Golden Apple Agro Fresh. While growers such as Ahmed and Mir were content looking after their apple farms, Javed says that the idea of the cold storage project hit upon him during the political crisis of 2008. ‘That was the time the fruits of the valley, especially pears, got damaged following a blockade enforced on the Srinagar- Jammu Highway. The conventional methods of storage impacted the quality and farmers lost heavily. Now, growers and traders use our facility for storing their produce. We also help them market the produce by organising buyer-seller meets,’ adds Javed. Incidentally, more than 90,000 acres in Kashmir valley are home to vast orchards of apple. Nearly 77 per cent of the country’s apple are produced in Jammu and Kashmir. Bank sources say that they launched the scheme across the whole valley, after a study conducted by Enterprise Solutions to Poverty (ESP) in 2011 revealed that over 75 per cent of small farmers depended on money lenders for support and less than 10 per cent sought help from banks. In its bid to empower the apple farmers and rescue them from the clutches of private money lenders, Jammu and Kashmir Bank revisited the ‘J&K Bank Apple Project’ and made it more comprehensive, say bank sources. Tie-up with varsity The bank has recently tied up with Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), Shalimar, for providing technical support to the apple farmer such as improving the quality of the fruit, improving tree density and production technologies. The technical guidance also includes re-plantation in aged orchards with improved, high yielding hybrid varieties and post-harvest management techniques and marketing as well. Growers brought under the ambit of J & K Bank’s financing project as at the end of April 2013 stood at 61,993, against the total number of over 2.8 lakh growers. The bank is targeting one lakh growers through direct financing by the close of this fiscal.