Involving some 3.5 million people, apples are the core of Kashmir's economy

Kashmir produces about 20 lakh metric tons of apples annually. Apples contribute 10 per cent to the state's economy. The attacks on a truck driver and two apple traders left farmers and traders in fear

Apple is not only major horticulture produce of Kashmir but is also the backbone of the rural economy across the Valley, Jammu and Kashmir. It is the highest employment generator in Kashmir. Kashmir produces about 20 lakh metric tons of apples annually and contributes 10 per cent to the state's economy.

In the last few years, the horticulture area under apple crop has increased from 81,116 hectares in 2001 to 146,016 hectares in 2018 in Kashmir and production has also inclined from 894,019 metric tons to 18,60,663 metric tons.

Kashmir not only has the best weather conditions to produce apples, but apples from Kashmir are also preferred in the local and international market for its taste, colour and quality. The farmers believe apples are the best cash crop.

Abdul Rashid, a farmer from Charisharief area of Budgam, told Mail Today that he earlier sowed maize in his field but the produce of apples has fetched him 10 times more return.

"I had one hectare of land till 1995. I was sowing maize as a lone crop in my field and it was not even producing its production cost but now, I have hopes to sell my apple crop in Rs five to six lakh annually. I spend nearly Rs one lakh for pesticides and other requirements on my farm. Still, I make a profit of Rs four to five lakh annually," he said.

Another farmer Bilal Ahmad said, "Since we started producing apples, my life has changed. I have built a house and I am educating my children as I have an assured income of Rs three to four lakh from my orchard annually."

But 2019 has not been so fruitful for apple farmers in Kashmir after the abrogation of provisions under Article 370. In last one week, three attacks have taken place on apple traders.

The attacks on a truck driver and two apple traders from Punjab in south Kashmir's Shopian district has left apple farmers and traders in panic and fear. Due to the emerging situation, no outside apple traders are returning to area which is resulting in less purchase price for apples to the farmers.

Speaking to Mail Today, Muzafar Ahmad said, "Last year, I sold my apples at Rs 700 per basket (22 kg). This year, the local traders are not even ready to pay Rs 400 per basket."

When Mail Today asked one of the local apple traders, Mohammed Amin for the decline in apple prices, he said, "We are facing a lot of problems in transportation of apples to the fruit markets or outside the state. Truck drivers or other transporters charge 50 per cent more as they transport the produce on risk."

"They feel that they can be targeted by the militants after the recent attack on a driver in Shopian. The government announced that they will buy apples but they are at different offices. How we can put our lives at risk and go to them with apples? If the government wants to but our crop, why do not they directly come to our orchards and purchase the crop," Mohammed Amin said.