The bumper apple crop in Himachal Pradesh this year has failed to translate into good news for growers yet again. Drought and hail have damaged the fruits,taking a toll on their quality and size,and crashing hopes of growers to at least breakeven this season.
In the first half of the season,early varieties of Royal and Tydeman apple have fetched prices as low as Rs 300-Rs 700 for every 20 kg box. Last year,the growers fetched between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,600. Many of our growers have not been able to recover even the transportation and packing costs,as the average cost of one apple box works out to Rs 400-Rs 450, said Pratap Chauhan,horticulturist and president of the marketing yard at Bhattarkufar in Shimla. Though buyers from down south,Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are flocking to the Himachal marketing yards,the prices have failed to pick up.
In such a situation of glut,exports of apple could have provided some relief. But the Adani Group,which carried out a recce of the international market for apple,has failed to get overseas importers. Vice-president Srinivas Ramanujam told The Indian Express,With the given quality and high transportation cost,the export price of Himachal apple is not competitive as compared to Fiji and Washington varieties. In the coming 15 days when the better quality Kashmir apples arrive and later in September Kinnaur apples ripen,the export prospects may brighten but so far our efforts to explore markets in Bangladesh,Dubai,Malaysia and Sri Lanka have not been fruitful.
Earlier this year,the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) had encouraged horticulturists in the state to set up cooperatives and independent agencies for reviving the export of apple. In a situation of glut,exports can get good returns for best quality apples. However,so far the growers are too dependent on outside agencies for transportation and packaging. This cycle is going to take a longer time to break, says Prakash Thakur,member of APEDA,Himachal Pradesh.
A grant of Rs 8 crore from APEDA to HP Horticulture Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation for setting up a packaging and collection centre in the interiors of the apple belt is yet to show results.
The horticulture department has estimated an output of Rs 2.50 crore apple boxes this year. And since the season was advanced due to warm weather in March-April ,70 lakh apple boxes have already reached the markets.