Shabir Ahmad Qadri
Horticulture is the backbone of Kashmir economy as millions depend upon it for employment.
Gulzar Ahmad (48) vividly remembers his childhood days when his father and two uncles used to spend days and days in their numerous orchards in Kashmir valley during the harvesting season. “They used to literally live in the orchards during the harvesting season. Even when the harvesting was done, the long and tedious process of shipping the products to their destinations out of the valley started,” recalls a now grown up Gulzar who has now inherited the family business.
“The main challenge started after the harvesting. The supply chain was dominated by a few strong middlemen who dictated when and where the shipment shall be delivered”, rues Gulzar while holding a basket of fresh fruits from his orchard.
One of the major complaints of the traders was the massive domination of the middlemen in the entire process of the shipping the fruits out of valley. “Along with the rates, the middlemen also controlled the supply chain, claim traders .This cartel of the middlemen not only ate away a chunk of the profits of the traders, it also disrupted a normal supply chain, so assiduously built buy the individual traders over the years.
As the Jammu and Kashmir saw rapid changes in past few years the fruit traders feared that it would lead to further deepening of the cartel network, thereby depriving the traders of their profits and disrupting the whole supply chain in a massive way. “We are immensely happy that our misgivings were proved wrong”, reveals Gulzar.
After August 2019 decisions the Central Government announced that the Union Home ministry and the ministry of Agriculture would oversee the smooth procurement, wherein the Centre would directly buy apples from apple growers in J&K. In a notification, the Union Government directed that the state government will ensure direct payment in the bank account of the apple grower through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). It further added that all categories of apples – A, B and C – will be procured from the apple producing districts in Jammu and Kashmir as well as designated mandis in Sopore, Shopian and Srinagar.
NAFED Roped In To Ensure Transparency.
To ensure the transparency and efficiency of the entire process, the State-run National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) has been roped in to facilitate the process of procurement of produce of the fruit growers in the region. Accordingly, NAFED aimed to procure 60% apples produced in J&K.
As per the notification issued by the Union Home Ministry, NAFED would procure A, B and C grade apples under a special Market Intervention Price Scheme (MISP) and payments will be made directly to the growers’ bank accounts through the direct benefit transfer (DBT) mode within 48 hours.
NAFED would procure apples from farmers through the directorate of Horticulture, Planning and Marketing. According to official data, Kashmir accounts for production of 91% walnuts, 90% of almonds, cherry and saffron, and 70% apples in the country, worth a total of Rs 7,000 crore annually.
In addition to the above interventions, Centre Government will pump an additional Rs 8,000 crore to help apple and dry fruit traders in J&K including Rs. 2,000 crore towards procuring apples directly from growers. The move is aimed to send positive signals to the business community showcasing the region as an ideal place for investments.
To further maintain transparency in the purchase of the produce, the government has also decided to set up a state-level price fixation committee to determine procurement price based on the variety and grade of apples, and other incidental charges like packaging, transportation, storage and related expenditure.
While a price committee will fix the fair prices for the produce, all necessary facilities and infrastructure has been set up at mandis across the important production centers to ensure smooth rollout of the procurement.
To ensure smooth coordination between various elements of the administration involved in the exercise, Centre has also directed the senior functionaries from the Horticulture Department to monitor and supervise the entire procurement operation, while directing the representatives from NAFED and the National Horticulture Board to also assist the administration with the procurement process.
Quality control-cum-grading committees have been constituted for each mandi for validation-cum-certification of the apples to be procured at the mandis to ensure quality control of the entire process. It is believed that the list of measures would enforce a strict quality control over the entire process of procurement and distribution of the produce.
Hope For the Future
Traders like Gulzar and others from the region are relieved that with the Centre’s intervention and proactive measures taken in recent times the hold of the greedy middleman over the supply chain has been reduced considerably. This has enabled the traders to reap the benefits which otherwise would have gone to the middlemen.
Gulzar believes the masses are hopeful LG administration would continue its stride forward for key sectors like horticulture.