Amid Covid-19 restrictions, Kashmir cherry farmers demand minimum support price

Officials say the tentative figures showed the production of cherries in the Kashmir Valley this year is about 12,000 metric tonnes. Last year, the figure was around 11,700 metric tonnes.

Fruit growers in Kashmir have demanded minimum support price (MSP) for cherry as despite the high yield this year farmers are facing massive losses due to limited demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Kashmir Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union (KFGDU) has criticised the administration of Jammu and Kashmir for its “failure” in providing adequate air and railway facilities for transporting the fruit during the Covid-19 restrictions as well as disregarding their request to provide minimum support price to help farmers during the crisis.

“The union has also suggested and made a humble request to the Lt Governor’s administration for consideration of minimum support prices of cherry at Rs 100/kg so that the poor cherry growers of the valley, who have constantly suffered heavy losses since 2014 devastating floods, may feel a sigh of relief but it is unfortunate that LG’s administration did not pay any attention to the said proposal,” Bashir Ahmad Basheer, KFGDU’s chairperson, said in a statement.

Officials say the tentative figures showed the production of cherries in the Kashmir Valley this year is about 12,000 metric tonnes. Last year, the figure was around 11,700 metric tonnes.

Kashmir exports some 3,500 to 4000 metric tonnes of cherries to other states every year.

Despite the sizeable yield, farmers are a worried lot because of the lack of demand following the closure of markets and difficulties in transporting the cherries from farms to markets amid Covid-19-related restrictions. They are getting a price of Rs 45-50 per kg as against double the amount last year.

Basheer said that owing to the apprehension of total damage of the cherry crop this year owing to the restrictions, the growers in the valley are staring at losses of crores of rupees with around 10 lakh families directly or indirectly connected with this industry.

“In case, the preventive measures are not taken well in advance there is a threat of the fruit industry of the UT, which is the backbone of J&K’s economy, turning sick,” he said.

Pandurang K Pole, the divisional commissioner of Kashmir, said there was no past precedent for such demand or its fulfilment. “Is there an example that such a thing has happened in the past which we could emulate?” he asked.

He said they met the growers’ union and apprised them of what was possible and what was not.

“Given the circumstances, the supply chain of every commodity is disrupted not just cherry. They know what is possible and not possible. Nevertheless, we are facilitating them,” he said.

The union said that there was around Rs 150-200 crore turnover cherry annually of which 60% of the total comes from Makhmali and Mishri varieties which were traditionally sent to Mumbai markets.

“As per past practice, these varieties are transported to Mumbai market through Air Cargo or by railways. Since Mumbai is extremely hit by Covid, the fruit mandi in Mumbai is therefore completely non-functional for any business,” he said.

Kashmir produces four types of cherries—Awwal Number, Double, Mishri and Makhmali —with the last two sold to other states.

“In this connection, the management of KFGDU took up the matter with LG administration and airlines for providing air and rail facilities for transportation of cherry to different stations of the country but despite vigorous follow-up, the governor’s admin failed to provide facilities causing acute mental agony to cherry growers,” the union president said.

Pole said that the administration was facilitating the transport of the fruit to Delhi while Mumbai was a red zone.

“Every day five to seven trucks are going to major markets of Delhi. Although 70% of the supply of cherry goes to Mumbai, but that is closed. There are no flights and the fruit is very perishable,” he said.

The union also said the Canning Owners Association, which lift the Double Cherry variety of the fruit, are reluctant in view of the closure of canning factories and uncertainty of its marketing.

Pole said they have given a go-ahead to 20 canning units to start functioning. “The units will be opening and some 4,000 metric tons will be used for canning,” he said.

Cherries are grown on an estimated 2,713 hectares in Kashmir and over the years the production has increased. From 8,282 metric tonnes during 2016-17, the figure increased to 11,280 metric tonnes in 2017-18 and further to 11,789 metric tonnes in 2018-19.

Source: News18