Grappling with problems of quantity and quality even after hundred years of existence in Himachal Pradesh, the apples produced in the hill state are now facing a global competition in the Indian market.
“The apple growers of HP have progressed much over the century, but we face a challenge now because of international policies. We are trying hard to get apple included in the special category in the interest of our growers, but the Centre is not listening,” Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes told The Statesman.
The apples from China, Afghanistan, Italy, Taiwan, America and some other countries has been flooding the market for past many years at 50 per cent import duty, giving stiff competition to the Himachal apple.
The lurking threat of WTO provisions coming into force any time would make things worse for apple growers in the tiny state as it would ease the imports further.
Himachal’s demand for considering apple as a ‘special category produce’ to safeguard it from WTO provisions has so far fallen on deaf ears in previous UPA and the present NDA government.
Stokes said the Rs.1,100-crore World Bank funded horticulture project for the state will take care of the quality and quantity issues of HP apple
The commercial varieties of apple were first introduced in Himachal Pradesh by an American, Satyanand Stokes, who was settled in Kotgarh area of Shimla district in 1916. Stokes was father-in-law of Vidya Stokes.
Prior to this, the hill state used to produce sour apples, smaller in size with no market value. The commercial cultivation of apples took off from Kotgarh and spread to other parts of the state.
The apple economy of Himachal annually runs into 4000 crores, with around 1.5 lakh families associated with it. Shimla district of Himachal produces 70 per cent of the total apple in the state, followed by Kullu and Kinnaur.
As per officials, apple is produced in 1.25 lakh hectares in the state with productivity as low as 3-4 tonnes per hectare. The apple production in Himachal Pradesh is around 4 crores boxes (one box is 20 kilograms) if the crop is good. The state generally contributes 40 per cent of total apple production in India, followed by Kashmir, which is at the top with 50 per cent production.
“We are celebrating 100 years of apple cultivation as it has lifted the economy of the state, especially upper areas of Shimla, which are now known as apple belt. But we need to work out ways to maintain the worn out apple orchards, which are very old and increase apple productivity by adopting modern methods,” said Rohit Thakur, a leading apple grower from Jubbal in Shimla.
Thakur, Chief Parliamentary Secretary in Himachal, said majority apple growers in the state have small land holdings and cannot compete with the foreign apple growers. “We fear that the economy of common apple growers will collapse if the imports are made free in times to come,” he added.
–By Archana Phull/Shimla