A Day In The Life of Cherry Grower In Kashmir: How Lockdown Has Added To Daily Struggles

Jun 16, 2021 | Economic Suppression

It has almost been two years now, 42-year-old Altaf Hussain, a cherry grower from Hanjiwera area of north Kashmir’s Pattan has been hoping for good business but thanks to the post August 5, 2019 situation and COVID-19 lockdown which worsened the circumstances for them.

Hussain says he leaves at 6: 30 am from home everyday to set up his fruit stall at main road Hanjiweera on Srinagar-Baramulla national highway.

“It takes me half an hour to reach the location and I have been setting up this stall for the last 32 years,” he told Indiatimes.

Several spots on Srinagar-Baramulla highway are known for the fruit stalls, where the locals and tourists can be seen purchasing the fruits.

Horticulture is the mainstay of the economy in Kashmir for various fruit growers and maximum people are associated with the sector to earn their bread and butter.   

Father of three kids, Hussain says that he has no other source of income. “We leave early in the morning to earn some money to feed our families and return late at night with a meagre amount. Our lives are full of challenges,” he said.

The demand for cherries comes mostly from outside J&K, with almost 90% of the exports headed to different parts of the country, especially metropolitan cities.

Hussain highlights COVID-19 lockdown as the major challenge for the losses to the cherry Industry in the valley. 

“Since there has been COVID lockdown, the rates of the cherries have dipped simultaneously. Two years back, we used to sell one kg of cherry box at Rs 150 and the same has come down to Rs 100 now,” he said.    

Less Demand And Production

Hussain said that this year the production has been much less as compared to the past many years. “Only 25% of cherry has been produced while the majority of it has been damaged due to the inclement weather or hailstorm,” he said. 

Since there is less demand, the growers have also decreased their rates to attract the customers. “But it didn’t yield any positive results. Before the abrogation of Article 370, the demand for the fruit was so high that we were selling 100 boxes of cherries in a day and now we are hardly selling 20-30 boxes,” he said.

Costly Material Is Used

After planting the cherry tree, one needs to spray pesticides and fertilisers on it. “Both the substances are costlier for a farmer. Everyone can’t afford it. Whatever we are earning gets spent on this,” he complains. 

Also, the packing of boxes has become expensive now. “Earlier, we used to buy it at Rs 4 and now the rate has gone up at Rs 8,” he said.

No Transportation Facility

Hussain said that cherry is seasonal fruit and needs to be sold on time. “Since the demand is high from outside the valley, no efforts are being made by the government for its quick and smooth transportation. 

“The stock remains piled up for days and then it gets damaged causing losses in crores,” he said. 

He lamented the government for not framing any policy for the fruit growers. 

“We have been facing losses but unfortunately till date the government has not paid any compensation to us,” he said.

Eight Types Of Cherry In Kashmir

There are eight types of cherry grown in Kashmir – Awal Number, Bulgariya, Makmal, Italy, Mishri, Double Class, Gogaj Makmal and Steel Double.

But, Hussain says that Mishri and Double Class cherries are in high demand as usual. “They can be found in the areas like Tangmarg, Bandipora, Nishat, Brien, Ganderbal and Pattan,” he said. 

The cherry harvesting season begins from mid-May and lasts up to the first week of July. As per estimates of J&K’s horticulture department cherry is being cultivated on around 2,800 hectares, which yields an annual turnover of around 130 to 150 crore. The major produce comes from central and north Kashmir.

Cherry Airlifted To Delhi, Mumbai

On June 8, Principal Secretary, Agriculture & Farmers Welfare and Horticulture departments J&K, Navin Kumar Choudhary flagged off the vans carrying cherry produce of various sellers of Kashmir which will be subsequently airlifted to Delhi and Mumbai from Srinagar airport, reads a statement.

Speaking on the occasion, the Principal Secretary said that it is a historic event for the horticulture sector of J&K and is a path breaking start for the marketing of perishable fruits and organic vegetables of J&K. 

He added that today almost five tons of perishable fruit produce will be airlifted to different cities like Mumbai and Delhi which will reach these destinations within hours.

Navin Choudhary further said that this significant step will empower the fruit growers of Jammu and Kashmir and will increase their income and boost the rural economy.

He added that it will also address the transportation hiccups for the horticulture produce, especially the highly perishable items like cherry, plum, apricots etc.

Author: Idrees Bukhtiyar
Publication: India Times