In a first, the Jammu and Kashmir government has organised a two-day apple festival on the banks of the Dal Lake to promote Kashmiri produce among buyers from different states.
The festival, which starts Thursday at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre, will be inaugurated by lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha and Union minister for agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar.
Horticulture director Ajaz Ahmad Bhat said, “During the festival, big buyers and entrepreneurs will come to Srinagar and will directly speak to growers and cold store owners. Growers from all districts have been invited for the festival. Our aim is to act as a bridge between growers, big buyers and companies. Several states are unaware of fruits produced in Kashmir and could be our future market.”
There will also be a roundtable session between growers and traders. “Earlier, a carton of apples would fetch ₹200 to ₹300. Now, it fetches over ₹1,000. So, the involvement of big buyers will help fruit growers fetch a better price,” Bhat said.
Ghulam Rasool Bhat, former president, fruit growers and dealers association, says interactions always help to build relationships between buyers and the sellers. “Similar festivals should be held at the mandis of apple producing districts.”
However, some growers are sceptical. “Whenever new governments come, they organise new festivals, conferences and tours for the traders. On ground, the government must take several initiatives to promote the trade,” said Habibullah Bhat, a fruit dealer in North Kashmir. “Even today, our growers are using old technologies and are behind from their foreign counterparts. We still have a long way to go,” he said.
As per official records, seven lakh farming families (approximately 35 lakh people) are directly or indirectly associated with the sector. The apple trade contributes to around 8% of the UT’s GDP and the government is trying to increase production by introducing high-density plantations.
Officials attached with the high-density plantations say even if 25-30% of the existing orchards are replaced with high-density plantations, then the production of fruit can double or triple. Currently, Kashmir produces around 23 to 24 lakh metric tons of fruit.
“There are many new measures underway that will increase apple production in the coming years, besides new varieties are being introduced that will fetch good money in the fruit markets across the country,” a senior horticulture officer said.
During the last year, the Jammu and Kashmir government has added up 40,000 metric tons of storage, taking the cold storage capacity to 1.65 lakh metric tons. Another 35,000 metric tons of storage capacity is being built.