After a hailstorm and then a drought-like situation, apple orchardists of Himachal Pradesh are now battling the sharp decline in prices.
Apple growers were on cloud nine until a week ago. And why not, the hard work they had put in their orchards over the past year was reaping good benefits. A 25-kg box was fetching anything between 2,500 to 3,000 rupees. The rates even touched 3,400 rupees per box in Chandigarh. While some growers raked in the moolah, not all were that lucky. Prices have crashed, and that too drastically — by almost one-third. The best quality apple is not even touching the 1,400 rupees mark now. The low has plunged even beyond 500 rupees, meaning the growers are being forced to sell their crop at a loss as the average production cost of an apple box is over 700 rupees. As such, disquiet on growers’ faces is obvious. For, it is their only source of income and the next crop is a year away.
Orchardists are now blaming the traders for the sharp decline in prices. Their logic is that commission agents in collusion with apple buyers allegedly bid high prices initially because they wanted to lure the growers to pluck their crop early. Their trick of creating an artificial demand worked. Even the unripe fruit that could have been kept on trees for another 10 days reached the market in advance, thus resulting in a glut-like situation and the subsequent low prices.
Another reason for the fall in prices could be the hike in export duty by the Union Government. The growers claim that earlier a large portion of the apple crop used to be exported to Nepal and Bangladesh. But with the hike in the duty, export has come down considerably, thus leading to the crashing of prices.
Besides this, lack of parking and infrastructure is adding to growers woes. A visit to Dhalli vegetable and fruit market has exposed the government’s claims of providing world-class facilities to the growers. Many big and small vehicles have reached the markets, but the lack of parking place has caused a jam-pack situation.
But not all growers are sad. There is an optimistic lot that says that the price slump is temporary and will be over soon. They say the main reason for the fall in rates is that a large chunk of the buyers, especially Muslim traders from various parts of the country, have headed to their respective native places to celebrate Eid. Once they are back in business, the prices would zoom once again.
In 2010, the state had a bumper crop and produced a record 4.46 crore boxes. Last year, the production was at an all-time low of 1.3 crore boxes. This year, the state is likely to produce over 2.5 crore boxes. The crop could have been a bumper one had it not been affected by the adverse weather conditions, including sharp fall in temperature at flowering time in March, a high-intensity hailstorm and the recent long dry spell.
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