Apple tastes bitter for Congress in poll-bound Himachal
crore apple boxes, informs horticulture development officer Dr Kaushal Mehta. “We lost another crore boxes due to the intermittent hailstorm. That is a loss of over Rs 2,000 crore approximately,” says Dr Mehta.
Traders, growers and officials say that the change in the temperature has led to a dwindling crop year after year. In the Solan Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), secretary Parkash Kashyap says that while they sold over 50 lakh boxes in 2015, it dropped to 32 lakh in 2016. This year, as the apple season has just concluded, trade of over 36 lakh boxes have been registered.
Apple grower and trader Narender Chouhan of the Dhalli APMC says that the apple plant needs a chilling period of over 1,100 hours in temperatures below 7 degree Celsius between December to March. “But because of rising temperatures, most apple plants need to make do with 900 hours,” says Chouhan.
Farmer Amar Singh, who works in an orchard situated over 40 kms from Shimla, says the credit system has also led to a lot of discrepancies. “For every transaction of Rs 1 lakh that we make, the trader first gives us Rs 7,0008,000. The full amount is usually handed out after he makes a deal later on. In case the deals falls through, we lose the produce and the earnings on it,” says Singh.
Trying to cash in on these problems, the BJP has announced a horticulture university for farmers in its manifesto. BJP spokesperson Mahender Dharmani says that apart from that the BJP has more plans in store. “We have promised imported hail nets, which we will provide at 80% subsidy, and we will take cold storage to the grassroot level which is now restricted to only those who are rich. We will also come out with an annual formula for compensation due to natural calami- ties, and promote organic cultivation,” says Dharmani. “The Congress did not build roads in the apple belt, which is the trade’s lifeline.”
Naresh Chauhan of the Congress counters these promises with the question of import duty. “When the BJP came to power in 2014, PM Modi said that import duty will be increased to counter the competition from foreign countries. But they haven’t yet delivered on that promise yet,” says Chouhan.
Dr Mehta says irrespective of who forms the government, the state department needs help in its efforts to counter the dwindling crop.
Perhaps with the elections around the corner, the apple trade will find better takers.