Srinagar, May 21 : As the harvesting of Kashmir’s first crop -- cherry, expected to surpass 12,000-metric tonne mark this year - - has started, the growers of the perishable fruit are staring at losses due to the nationwide lockdown to combat Covid-19. Besides, shortage of pesticides and packaging boxes, non-availability of two main markets - - Mumbai and Ahmedabad due to lockdown - - is giving sleepless night to the growers, who fear that they may not be able to export the fruit or find buyers outside due to closure of markets. About 50 per cent of the crop is locally consumed while the rest is exported to different parts of the country, particularly metropolitan cities.
However, the growers alleged that due to the opening of local fruit man dies in the valley for only two hours in the morning, they are finding it very difficult to sell the crop even there. “This year the climate was good. We did not suffer any loss due to climatic conditions. However, this time there are no boxes to pack and dispatch the fruit, due to very less or no production in units. Transporting cherries is also a problem because everything is shut due to lockdown,” Gulam Nabi Dar, a grower, told UNI. Mr Dar said they are also facing shortage of labour and pesticides.
“Labourers used to come from outside the valley, particularly from Rajouri, for plucking the fruit. They used to stay in the orchards and work for us. But, this year no one has come due to the lockdown,” he said. “The timings set by the administration for functioning of local fruit mandies has added to our sufferings. How can they expect us to sell the product in just two hours? How will the buyers come and how will we take our fruit to come there,” he added. Cherry is a soft fruit with a shelf-life of just a few days. “Stopping a cherry-laden vehicle even for a few hours in the high-temperature season would result in the spoiling of the fruit,” he said, adding that due to lack of fruit processing units in Kashmir, there is apprehension that the crop many get spoiled. Similar concerns were raised by other cherry growers in the valley. Meanwhile, Chairman of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers-Cum-Dealers Union Bashir Ahmad said Mumbai has been the main market for cherry fruit.
“About 60 per cent of the cherry produce was exported to Mumbai in previous years. Unfortunately, fruit man dies in Mumbai are not properly functioning so we don’t expect to send 60 per cent of the export there,” he said. Similarly, man dies in other parts of the country have also been hit due to COVID-19 outbreak. He said they have urged to government to fix Rs 100 as MSP per kilo for cherry if the authorities want the growers to survive. The production had reached 11,289 and 11,789 metric tonnes in 2017 and 2018, respectively, though it came down slightly to 11,000 metric tonnes last year due to hailstorms in some cherry growing areas in the valley. (UNI)