The National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) has not bought a single kilogram of apples for the last three decades or more.
“We did not have to, as this trade was always in private hands and the government didn’t think it necessary for us to intervene,” said an official from the nodal agency that procures oilseeds, pulses, copra, onion and cotton to deliver the minimum support price (MSP) declared by the Centre to farmers.
But now, NAFED has been tasked with purchasing all the apples that growers bring to sell at mandis in the Valley. A bumper crop, for which there would hardly be any private buyers with all the current movement restrictions, makes it all the more challenging.
Driving the economy
With production worth Rs 8,000 crore, apple forms a crucial part of Jammu and Kashmir’s economy. With a bumper crop, ensuring its marketing and a fair price has become a priority for the government.
Jammu & Kashmir accounts for about 18 lakh tonnes (lt) out of India’s total annual apple production of 23-24 lt, which also includes 4.5-5 lt from Himachal Pradesh and 50,000-60,000 tonnes from Uttarakhand. This year, the country’s output is projected to touch 26 lt due to good snowfall, with J&K alone harvesting 20 lt or so.
“We have been told to buy whatever is offered to us, though the indicative target is to procure 12 lt from the Valley. There is no MSP for apple. The state government will fix the procurement prices for different grades (A, B and C) and varieties. It is expected that we will pay 5 per cent more than the market price prevailing last year. The total cost of procurement operations is tentatively assessed at Rs 5,000 crore,” the NAFED official told The Indian Express.
The J&K Directorate of Horticulture, Planning & Marketing would do the actual procurement, with NAFED taking delivery of the apples. “The purchases will start from September 12 at four mandis — Shopian, Sopore, Parimpora (Srinagar) and Batango (Anantnag) — and we would add more centres as arrivals pick up,” the official said.
Apple harvesting is now on mainly in HP, where an estimated 50-60 per cent of the fruit in the main belt of Shimla, Narkanda, Sainj and Rohru are still on the trees. Harvesting in Kashmir will start peaking only towards end-September. “There may be some harvesting before that, but growers generally do not bring their crop to the market till it is over in Himachal. Peak harvesting in the Valley happens in October and the apples keep arriving till early December,” said a Delhi-based trader.
Currently, Royal Delicious apple is fetching an average modal price of Rs 3,300 per quintal in Shimla, as against Rs 7,800-7,900 at this time last year. That has mainly to do with a bigger crop, likely in Kashmir as well.
But for NAFED, the real challenge lies in the very short preparation time. “We opened our office in Srinagar only late last week, while the order for procurement under the Centre’s market intervention scheme came to us at 1:30 am on Tuesday. It leaves us with hardly much time to undertake registration of growers, collecting their Aadhaar and bank account details for making direct benefit transfer payment. Ideally, this process should have happened at the time of flowering, but that option simply does not exist now,” the official said.
NAFED has been asked to complete the entire procurement operation by mid-December. Payment to growers’ accounts is also supposed to take place within 48 hours of procurement.