Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Mir has 300-400 apple trees in his 13-acre orchard, which usually give him 3,600 boxes, each containing 20 kilos of the fruit, every year. “We used to sell a box for 1,000 rupees. But now we are only getting 500-700 rupees for one box,” he says.
Like 65-year-old Mir of Kremshora village in Budgam district, many cultivators in Kashmir are facing a similar, heavy loss of income. And the entire apple industry here is in the midst of a severe crisis since August 5, after the central government abrogated Article 370 and then turned the state into a Union Territory.
The fruit forms a major part of the local economy. Apple is cultivated on 164,742 hectares in Jammu and Kashmir, which together produced over 1.8 million (18,82,319) metric tons of the fruit in 2018-19 (data of the Directorate of Horticulture, Kashmir). The Horticulture Department of the Government of Jammu and Kashmir estimates that horticulture (including apples) is a source of livelihood for 3.3 million people in J&K – and the industry, Director, Horticulture Aijaz Ahmad Bhat told the media, is worth Rs. 8,000-10,000 crores.
Additionally, labourers from outside the state (now UT) find employment in orchards across the Kashmir Valley. But they left in large numbers in early August amid the political turmoil. Through October, 11 non-locals, most of them truck drivers and labourers, have been killed, allegedly by suspected militants. This has added to the difficulties of transporting Kashmiri apples out to markets in the country.
And it is equally difficult for people and produce to move within and across districts in Kashmir, with public transport, buses and shared taxis at a standstill even now.
Some of the traders who purchase apples from the orchard owners send them directly to markets in Delhi, selling them for Rs. 1,400-1,500 a box. Other traders, who sell through the government, are still waiting for the purchase to proceed. Meanwhile, some of them say that posters being pasted (it is not clear by whom) during the night forbid them from selling their apples to the government.
Muzamil Bhat is a Srinagar-based freelance photojournalist.
This essay first appeared on Rural India Online.