Apple farmers in Himachal Pradesh feel their woes aren't being addressed by any party
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New Delhi: Apple farmers in Himachal Pradesh are facing the onslaught of the scab disease, which has hit the state after nearly four decades. It is damaging this year’s produce, and causing a rise in its prices.

The highly infectious fungal disease is spreading in the high-yield belt of the country’s second-largest apple producer, and is expected to result in a 25-30 per cent drop in production. The prices have already doubled in local markets.

The disease leaves black marks on apples and deforms them. The quality deteriorates in a matter of a few days, rendering the entire produce on the orchard useless. It previously affected the state in the 1982-83 season.

This year, it initially surfaced in apple orchards in Mandi and Kullu districts around the onset of harvest season in June. But as the harvesting season progressed, it spread quickly.

According to state horticulture department officials, the fungal infection has spread over an area of over 10,000 hectares in Rohru, Jubbal-Kotkhai, Chaupal and Kotgarh belt in Shimla, among other regions.

“The disease has resurfaced in the state after about 38 years. We are closely monitoring the spread and have suggested some curative steps as well. If immediate preventive measures are not taken by the orchard owners, the disease can affect 60-70 per cent of apple production in the state,” said Des Raj, Deputy Director, Horticulture.

“We are expecting a drop of 25-30 per cent in apple production this year in the state with a decline of over 60 per cent in best quality ‘Royal Delicious’ variety. The apple production is expected to be between 20 lakh boxes (weighing 20-25 kg each) this year as compared to 30 lakh boxes last year,” added Raj.

This shock to the state’s Rs 4,500-crore apple economy comes just after it faced an unprecedented labour shortage during the lockdown.

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Effect on prices

The decline in production has almost doubled the apple prices in wholesale fruit markets in the major producing regions of the state.

“’Delicious’ variety of the apple was at Rs 6,350/quintal in the harvesting month of August while the maximum price was Rs 10,000/quintal. In the same period last year, the price of the same variety was around Rs 3,500/quintal and the maximum price was Rs 5,800/quintal,” said Vijay Thakur, owner of Karman Fruits in Chamba district.

Retail prices are hovering around Rs 150/kg this year, depending on the quality, said Thakur.

“The disease damages the quality of the apple, making it unviable for storage as only 30 to 40 per cent of the produce is of storable quality due to a wide prevalence of hail marks and scab spots. This may lead to further increase in prices up to Rs 220-250/kg this year after the harvest season gets over,” he added.

Other factors for price rise

In the wholesale market outside Himachal Pradesh, the decline in the arrival of the apple from the state, coupled with the dip in global import due to disruption in the supply chain caused by the Covid pandemic, has also pushed up the prices.

The increase in demand, with people seeking to maintain a healthy diet amid the Covid outbreak, has only made the matters worse.

In Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi, the biggest vegetable and fruits market in Asia catering to Delhi and nearby states, the apple supply from Himachal Pradesh has declined by over one-third of the amount last year.

On 7 September, only 616 tonnes of apples were supplied to the market from Himachal Pradesh as compared to 3,159 tonnes on the same day last year. The wholesale price of the commodity has also jumped from Rs 30/kg to Rs 110/kg as compared to last year, showed data from the market.

“Lower apple imports have also further pushed the price of the commodity this year as the demand for fruits has increased. The supply of Washington apples has been halved due to higher duty on US apples. They already cost around Rs 200-250/kg so there is heavy demand for Indian variety which is further increasing the price,” said Ramphal Panwar, a wholesale apple trader in Azadpur Mandi.

“The harvest season for Himachal Pradesh is almost over and if the apples from the upcoming harvest season of Kashmir don’t arrive like last year, the price of the commodity will be well beyond Rs 250-300/kg by the end of the year,” added Panwar.

In the peak harvest season last year, the apple arrival from the Kashmir Valley witnessed a 44 per cent decline. If a similar situation is repeated this year, coupled with damage to apple produce in Himachal Pradesh, the prices are likely to go up significantly.

Also read: Why Kerala is planning to allow its famed plantations to grow exotic fruits


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