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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Core concerns for Kashmir fruit

By Altaf Hussain
BBC correspondent in Srinagar

Apples in Kashmir
Kashmiri fruit is high quality but industry lacks infrastructure, growers say
Indian-administered Kashmir's fruit industry faces some core reforms if it is to survive in a newly competitive environment.

Restrictions on the import of fruit into India are due to be withdrawn under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules from next year, leaving Kashmiris facing tougher competition from rival exporters.

Industry infrastructure, particularly post-harvest technology, lags far behind the West.

An orchardist and general secretary of the Kashmir Fruit Growers Association, Imtiaz Ahmed says: "Our fruit is better than [other countries] but we do not have the facilities like on-farm storage, refrigerated vans and modern packing technology."

He says Kashmiri fruit growers have conveyed their concerns to the authorities but the government's response has been poor.

Mixing grades

However, Mr Ahmed praises the government's Market Intervention Scheme, begun last year.

[Chinese fruit] is not tasty, but it will be cheap
Imtiaz Ahmed, Kashmir Fruit Growers Association

Under the scheme, the government buys C grade apples from growers at three rupees (five US cents) a kilogram.

This fruit is later sold to the processing industry at half a rupee a kilogram.

The government incurs the loss so that the apple growers are dissuaded from mixing grades while packing.

About 8,000 tonnes of C grade apples were purchased under the scheme last year.

This year as many as 50,000 tonnes will be purchased, says the director of horticulture planning and marketing, Irfan Yasin.

The government has set aside $3m for the purpose.

Wooden boxes

The authorities say standard grading is critical for making the Kashmiri apple worthy competition under the WTO regime.

The Horticulture Produce Marketing Corporation is setting up an electronic grading unit in the southern town of Shopian at a cost of $800,000.

The unit is likely to start functioning by July next year.

Apple trees in Kashmir
Growers face severe drought problems in some areas

The government is also considering subsidising the cost of cardboard cartons for packing.

At present, fruit growers use cheaper wooden boxes.

Another initiative is the Technology Mission under which one billion rupees, mainly from central government, has been allocated in a four-year programme.

The project will promote research and develop nurseries, irrigation facilities, cold storage and marketing.

"We have been talking to investors inside and outside the state to invest in projects under the Technology Mission. We have already sanctioned 67 on-farm stores," says Mr Yasin.

The authorities also say that Kashmir's fruit industry, which has an annual turnover of more than $300m, needs controlled atmosphere stores with a capacity of 40,000 tonnes.

This, they say, will allow growers to sell their produce over a longer period instead of causing a glut after harvesting.

'Chinese everywhere'

One major fear for growers is Chinese fruit flooding the Indian market.

"It is not tasty, but it will be cheap", says Imtiaz Ahmed.

"The Chinese are everywhere," Mr Yasin adds, with a sense of anxiety.

Another constant concern is drought.

Many a grower in the Chrar-e-Sharief area has removed trees that have failed because of two years of drought.

However, Mr Yasin says the government is finalising an $18,000 scheme for storing waste water for irrigation of orchards in Chrar-e-Sharief.

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