An abysmal winters this year and an equally abysmal monsoon later dashed the hopes of apple growers. Production this year in the orchards dwindled from the previous years. Delayed monsoon further hit the overall quality and growth of the apple. It was under this background the apple harvest season started this year. Though there has been a big fall in the overall arrivals in the market, apple growers are getting handsome returns for their crop. There is a big mis-match in the overall demand and supply. For the first time in the history an average apple box is selling above Rs. 1000 right through the season in the local fruit markets.
Other major reason for commanding higher prices apart from the demand and supply factor is growers are now able to sell in local markets. They are not solely dependent on the Delhi traders, who over the years looted and plundered the apple growers. Shimla has become a major hub for selling apples. Local markets are operating in Kharapathar, Rohru, Narkanda and Kheksu in Shimla district. The crop reaches the local market the second day after plucking and packing. These markets have considerably reduced the transportation costs for the growers. Local markets have also reduced the overall costs of hiring manpower for plucking and packing. Earlier when the apples were transported to Delhi, large number of people were required for this work as the crop was transported in trucks in bulk.
Narkanda is a major apple market in the apple producing areas of Kotgarh, Kumarsain, Dalash, Ani, Rampur, Baghi and Rohru area. With local market at Narkanda, growers are now transporting one Utility vehicle load, normally 80 boxes. Growers keep a tab on the market price trends and also have an option of stopping the supply in case the market crashes. The crop is sold in presence of the grower and it is an open auction. Growers now are more aware about the quality of packing, grading etc. as they visit the market often and are aware which practice can fetch more money. All this was not possible earlier when the entire crop was sent to Delhi. It was not feasible for everyone to go to Delhi to sell the crop. Delhi traders would then make a sale at their own whim. After calculating the expenses and commissions grower would get very less returns.
Delhi traders have exploited the growers for long. Till date, how apple is sold in Delhi is still a mystery. The buyers speak in a different code language and the deal is sealed among them in a strange fashion of touching fingers under a small towel which they carry. This is a big mystery and a grower only knows of the rate when he gets the sale letter in hand. The entire method is highly unfavorable for the growers. Above all Delhi is the only market in India which charges commission from the growers. No market in India does. APMC law in Delhi clearly states no commission to be charged from the growers but it has not been implemented till date. No govt, whether in Himachal or Delhi is serious to protect the grower’s interests. Though every year before the apple season starts, right noises are made and meetings done with Delhi administration but nothing happens! Lately, the Himachal government has taken a recourse in courts and taken up the issue of apple commission charged from the growers in court.
I discontinued sending my crop to Delhi way back in 2002 and sold initially at Shimla. In 2005 the Narkanda market started and since then have sold the crop their. My average savings is more compared to the cost of selling at Shimla and Delhi. I sell 80-90 boxes at a time. This way I am able to control my costs of hiring the labor. Just 4 person are required for plucking and packing. We all work from 9-5. One day goes in plucking and the second day is for grading and packing the boxes. The boxes are transported to the market on the second day itself. A 25 km journey next day to Narkanda and the boxes get sold by 11 am. I am back home by 12. Payment is done by cheque and usually get cleared in a week’s time. Local markets have certainly made life easier.
A word on Adanis and others who have opened up cold stores. They have NOT been able to help the small farmers. Firstly, the rate offered is lesser than the prevailing market rates. They have very stringent quality control. Usually they demand the best apple at a very low price. This year, the rate offered is Rs. 38/ per kg for the best quality apple. In open market a best quality apple box of 25 kg sells for Rs. 1400 – 1800 where as they are offering Rs. 950. So who sells apples to them? It is majorly the big growers who produce apples in bulk and do not have the resources for packing and transporting the crop to the market. Labor has become scarce and costly as Nepalese have stopped coming for the past few years. (Adani buys apple in crates and does not require any packing. Just pluck the apples and send it to their cold stores.) Previously when the market would crash growers would sell directly to save on packing and transportation costs.
What does the future hold for apple growers? Local markets are here to stay and will flourish in coming years. Many more will come up. People are now saying goodbye to Delhi market and rightfully so!. Delhi traders are trying to get into local markets but they still follow the Delhi ethics. I don’t see them making a mark here. Eventually consolidation will happen between the buyers. Already there are buyers as far from Nepal, Bangladesh and from cities like Lucknow, Nasik, Sangli, Kerala, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kolkata. These buyers are also bypassing the Delhi market and purchasing directly from the growers. Many more will come in future and this will ultimately weaken the stronghold of Delhi traders.
I wish the govt. stays away from the local markets. Anything the govt. touches turns to crap. Let these markets evolve on there own.
What do you think?