Lots Of Apples, Not Enough Facilities To Store Them Cold

Lots Of Apples, Not Enough Facilities To Store Them Cold

14 November 2013
The Indian Express
Safwat Zargar

Srinagar: Kashmir's annual apple production has risen to 15 lakh metric tonnes this year but the valley still has no significant facility for cold storage, which has been affecting the demand and price of Kashmiri apples in the national market. 'Kashmir needs to add 3 lakh tonnes to its cold storage capacity,' says Qazi Aijaz, deputy director (planning and marketing), horticulture. According to Aijaz, there are only seven cold storage units in Kashmir with a storage capacity around 35,000 tonnes. 'The absence of cold storage facilities affects the price of Kashmiri apples in the national market,' says Ehsan Javaid, who owns Golden Apple Cold Storage in south Kashmir's Pulwama district. Ehsan, whose unit has a capacity of 2,000 tonnes and who plans to raise it to 5,000, points out that the state's cold storage capacity is negligible compared to its production. 'There is a lot of business potential in cold storage and at the same time, it can be a source of employment for a lot of farmers, youths and even engineers,' says Ehsan. 'Since we don't have enough cold storage facilities, we are not being able to regulate the supply of our apples in the market, which in turn brings prices down.' The existing facilities are usually used up for high-grade apples to preserve their quality and taste. The valley finds most of its apples being sold in bulk rather than round the year. According to the National Horticulture Board, Jammu and Kashmir is the largest apple-producing state of the country, catering to 70 per cent of the total apple demand in the country. Mohamad Akbar, who sells nearly 25,000 boxes of apples annually, says only 20 per cent of the apples are worth keeping in cold storage. 'Cold storage demands that an apple should be kept in a controlled atmosphere within 72 hours of its picking from the tree,' says Akbar. Bashir Ahmad, president of New Kashmir Fruit Association, Parimpora Srinagar, agrees that cold storage carries the promise of employment and regulation of apple prices in the market, but the question of quality remains. 'The question of cold storage comes later. We should first work on improving the quality of apples,' says Bashir. 'We need to increase the proportion of A-grade apples in the total produce, so that we are able to store high-quality apples and then supply these to the market throughout the year,' he says. Bashir says that since all the apples produced are sent to the market every year, the supply-demand mismatch causes prices to crash. 'There should be four or five cold storage units in every block of apple producing districts,' says Bashir. Whatever cold-storage business Kashmir has is all privately owned, with the government giving subsidy to those who take it up. The government says it encourages the setting up of such facilities, but owners of units complain that documentation and approval from various departments take a long time. But it is not only cold storage that is lacking. Apple growers complain also about a lack of government interest in the horticulture sector in general and the apple industry in particular. Over the last few years, the share of quality apples in the total produce has decreased significantly, farmers say. This year, in addition to the outbreak of a disease that affected apple quality, pesticides and fungicides in the market too were substandard, they say. Mir Khurram Shafi, managing director of Harshna Naturals and the recently inaugurated H N Agri Service in Pulwama district, stresses the need for awareness about cold storage. 'In the first year of our unit, only five per cent of our stored apples were from farmers directly. At present 75 per cent come directly from farmers,' says Khurram. According to Khurram, a single unit can employ 50 people permanently and 150 on a temporary basis. Khurram manages two cold storage units in Lassipora, Pulwama, of 10,000 tonnes. 'We try to act as a platform where farmers and major distributors do business with no value loss,' says Khurram. 'Our focus is farmer-centric.'