This year the plucking season has been the hardest for Himachal apple farmers. Problems for the growers are increasing day by day. Apart from the low prices in the markets and poor road conditions, shortage of labour has hit the apple plucking even harder.
This year there has been acute crisis of Gurkha labour not coming from Nepal. Gurkhas have traditionally been the backbone of the apple farming in the state as the growers are completely dependent on them for plucking, packing and transportation work in the apple farms. Their physical stamina of working in the hills is unmatched as they are known to be adept with working on rough terrain like the ones in the apple producing areas of the state.
According to rough estimates there is a shortage of 60% labourers in the apple farms leading to nightmares to the apple growers. Being a labour intensive industry shortage of helping hands has delayed the harvesting season in the orchards. Plucking of apple happens over a three month period from July to September.
Shortage of labour is being attributed to a delayed monsoon in Nepal where the Gurkhas are busy with the sowing in their own agricultural land. Also, the wages being offered in the apple farms have become unattractive as they have been fixed at Rs. 120/ This year though the wages have reached Rs. 200/ owing to the shortage.
With an increase in construction activity in the state and across the country, Gurkhas are now abandoning work in the apple farms. They now prefer working at construction sites where they are paid enhanced wages. Conversion rate of Indian Rs. 100/ is 160/ in Nepalese currency.
During the harvesting period in Himachal, construction work also opens in Ladakh region where they are paid handsome wages. Ladakh is now the preferred destination for the Gurkhas during July – September period leading to farming crisis in Himachal Pradesh.
Bheem Bahadur, who recently arrived for the harvesting season from Nepal told there has been a spurt in developmental activities in his country. Work is now available in the Panchayats due to which less and less Nepalis are moving out. The younger generation of Nepalis prefer working in Gulf and Malaysia where they get good remuneration. A large number of Nepalis are now moving to these places for higher wages. (Watch Video)
Earlier, besides Gurkhas, labourers from Bihar and Jharkhand used to come to Himachal Pradesh to harvest apples. However, with the successful implementation of the central government’s flagship scheme MGNREGA in those states, they too now have stopped coming to Himachal Pradesh.
The labour crisis has come as a dampener for a majority of the apple growers in the state who were otherwise excited because of the record production.
The horticulture department had estimated a record high 6,53,689 metric tonnes of apple production this year, an over two-and-a-half times more than last season when it was 2,80,105 metric tonnes.
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