Apple growers would like to forget this year in a hurry. Scanty snowfall in winter and excessive and continual rains from mid-March till mid-September marred both the quantity and quality of the fruit. As against the 3.36 crore apple boxes marketed last year, the Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Department estimates that the total produce this time would be around 2 crore boxes. The significant drop in production is despite the fact that apples packed per box this year are much less compared to last year, because of the sale-by-weight provision having been brought in.
Minimum Import Price, a good move
Fixing Minimum Import Price of apple at Rs 50/kg by the Centre has come as a big relief for growers. This would help them compete with the growing import from countries like Iran and Turkey, from where apple comes at cheaper rates. “From Iran, apple was reaching at a price as low as Rs 35-40 per kg. It was impossible for us to compete at this rate. Now, the apple will not reach the Indian shores at less than Rs 75 per kg,” says SKM convener Harish Chauhan. Many growers, though, feel that the MIP could have been fixed at a higher price to protect the interest of local growers in the face of apple coming from South Asian Free Trade Area countries, where the import duty is not applicable. “Ideally, the MIP should have been Rs 70-80 per kg. Nonetheless, it’s a good move,” says Progressive Growers Association chief Lokinder Bisht.
A large number of apple growers suffered losses this time due to inclement weather — while many saw their production go down by up to 70 per cent owing to rampant fungal diseases, several others witnessed major portions of their orchards being washed away and plants getting uprooted following heavy downpour and landslides.
“It takes 8-10 years for the traditional apple plant to start bearing fruit. Losing one such tree is a big loss, and here people have lost large tracts of orchards having several trees,” says an elderly orchardist in the Kotgarh area. After the heavy downpour in the second week of July, every orchard had a muddy trail running through it, indicating the extent of loss due to landslides in the area, he adds.
Figures at a glance
- In 2022-23, 3.74 lakh MT apple was imported from around 30 countries. Over 50 per cent came from Turkey (1.07 lakh MT) and Iran (80,000 MT).
- Other countries in top 5 were Italy, Chile & Poland.
- From the US, only 4,486 MT was imported. In 2018-19, the import was 1.27 lakh MT.
- With 20 per cent reduction in import duty on Washington apple, which scores over Indian apple in terms of standardisation of colour and size, the growers fear its import will go back to the earlier level.
Overall, more than 57,000 apple growers suffered losses in rain-related incidents. Over 23,000 hectares of orchard area have sustained damage, which includes land loss due to landslides, erosion and subsidence, tree loss (total and partial) and crop damage. While the land loss is permanent and tree loss long-term, even the crop loss due to fungal diseases will not be limited to this year. Due to the excessive and continual rains, most orchards contracted fungal diseases that resulted in very early leaf fall, rendering the plant vulnerable. “The premature leaf fall has been rampant this year. Since plants have lost leaves far too early, the repercussions would be felt next year as well in both the quality and quantity of the fruit,” says Deepak Singha, an orchardist from Kotgarh.
Reeling under the impact of adverse weather conditions, the Centre’s two decisions — reduction of import duty on Washington apple from 70 to 50 per cent and shifting the entire Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) burden on to the state government — will further compound the troubles of apple growers.
“The 70 per cent import duty ensured that the Washington apple did not compete with the local premium apple in terms of price. If it’s available at the same or even at a slightly higher price, the brand conscious Indian customers will go in for the imported apple,” says Harish Chauhan, convener of the Sanyukt Kisan Manch.
The growers feel the reduced import duty will significantly increase the import of Washington apple, which will hit the local premium apple. For the record, the import of Washington apple stood at around 1.28 lakh metric tonnes (MT) in 2018-19, just before the government raised the import duty from 50 to 70 per cent in 2019. In 2022-23, the import was reduced to a mere 4,486 MT. In monetary terms, the import reduced from $145 million to just $5.27 million in five years.
Also, the move to shift the entire liability of MIS, under which the state government buys culled apple and citrus fruits from the growers, on to the state government would be detrimental to the interest of the growers. The Centre has reduced the budgetary allocation for MIS for 2023-24 to just Rs 1 lakh. Even when the Centre bore 50 per cent of the MIS liability, the MIS payments were often delayed. Now, these payments could get delayed even further.
The silver lining in the otherwise gloomy year for the growers was the introduction of the sale-by-weight provision in the mandis of the state.
Over the past few years, the apple growers were being encouraged/pressured by market forces to pack as much apple as possible in the carton meant for a maximum 22-24 kg weight. At times, the growers were packing even 37-38 kg fruit in the box in the hope of getting a better price due to excess weight. “The growers have benefitted by selling their produce as per weight. Unlike in the past, now they know how much they got for every kilo of their produce,” says Chauhan. However, the growers feel it’s just the beginning and steps like bringing in a single-piece carton to ensure uniform weight and fixing freight on the basis of weight, need to follow to keep apple cultivation a viable and remunerative occupation.
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