Apparently taking inspiration from neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana seeking minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy as a statutory right, a joint forum of at least 22 farmers’ organisations in Himachal Pradesh has formed their own Sanyukt Kisan Manch (SKM). A state-wide protest has been has been called on Monday. The SKM has warned the BJPled state government of a much bigger protest on September 27, if it failed to take any effective decision to protect interests of apple farmers.
SKM convenor and progressive apple producer Harish Chauhan says Manch members, cutting across political lines, are mobilising farmers in various districts to bring them under one umbrella to fight for fair prices when the production cost has steadily increased over the years. “Not only apple growers, we are also involving farmers growing tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, cauliflower and other crops to fight for MSP for their produce. Kerala announced MSP for 16 vegetables last year,” he added.
MIS fails in J&K
HP apple growers are seeking government’s market intervention scheme (MIS) in purchase of apples on the lines of J&K, where the central procuring agency National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) bought apples directly from farmers in 2019-20 and 2020-21 through the Jammu and Kashmir Horticulture Processing and Marketing Corporation (JKHPMC). However, the move has hardly made a difference there.
Jammu and Kashmir horticulture and planning department director Vishesh Mahajan told TOI, “This time there is no MIS through NAFED till now, though our apple season has started. It was there till last year but the apple procurement last year was negligible, hardly a few hundred boxes.”
WHY DID APPLE PRICES PLUMMET?
HP horticulture department director J P Sharma explains that there are various reasons for the fall in apple prices, including bumper crop this year as between 3 crore to 3.5 crore boxes are expected this year against 2.5 crore boxes last year. Then there is damage to the produce due to hails, smaller size of apple and colour issues. There is also a demand and supply equation at play, he adds.
One of 11 main demands raised by SKM
Implementation of market intervention scheme (MIS) on the lines of Jammu and Kashmir under which A, B and C grade apples must be purchased at a support price of Rs 60, Rs 44 and Rs 24 per kg to stop apple producers’ exploitation in mandis or markets.
Strict implementation of the agricultural produce market committee (APMC) Act across the state so that apple growers get their payments the same day. There is also a demand for open bidding in the market and to annul charges like labour charge, discount and bank charges.
From Apple growers
Stern legal action against traders and agents who have failed to make payments to the farmers for long, besides withdrawal of hike in prices of packaging material like cartons and trays.
Compensate apple producers for the loss caused by hailstorm, heavy rains, untimely snowfall and drought
Roll back of the hike in transportation charges and immediate release of payment to farmers for the apple lifted by the Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation (HPMC) and Himachal Pradesh State Co-operative Marketing and Consumers Federation (HIMFED) Restoration of subsidy on fertilisers, seeds, insecticides, fungicides, other farm items and immediate release of the outstanding subsidy on implements used for horticulture and agriculture like sprayers, tillers and anti-hail nets are also on the demand list.
PRIVATE PLAYER INFLUENCING MARKET?
Adani Agri Fresh announced its apple procurement prices on August 25, fixing the rate for A-grade premium apples at Rs 72 per kg, which was Rs 16 less than last year’s rate of Rs 88 per kg. SKM convenor Chauhan accused Adani Agri Fresh and its competitors of setting a benchmark for the rest of the market, ultimately resulting in loss to apple growers even as there was no market intervention by the state government.
However, Adani Agri Fresh’s terminal head in Himachal Pradesh Pankaj Mishra counters SKM’s claims: “How can we influence the market prices when our share is negligible at barely 2% of the total produce procurement?” The state horticulture department is expecting apple produce to remain between 3 crore to 3.5 crore boxes of 20 kg this year, Adani is procuring 20,000 metric tonne (MT), which comes to nearly 10 lakh boxes.
State agriculture marketing board managing director Naresh Thakur told TOI that Adani Agri Fresh cannot dictate prices in the market also because it started procurement from August 26, whereas the apple started coming in the market from July. “The prices had crashed on August 15 after the glut in the market, when the apple supply started from mid-Himachal areas and various other reasons,” said Thakur.
Mishra says Adani Agri Fresh has over 17,000 registered farmers in Shimla, Mandi, Kullu and Kinnaur districts. Even they are not bound to sell their produce to Adani Agri Fresh and can go to any of the hundreds of commission agents and traders in the market. “Our prices must be suitable for farmers, which is why we have completed over one-third procurement of our target since August 26 till now,” said Mishra, adding that their procurement will end on October 30.
As on date, after some price correction, Adani Agri Fresh is procuring A-grade premium apple of Rs 74 per kg, C-grade apple at the lowest rate of Rs 15 per kg. Whereas the HPMC and HIMFED are procuring C-grade apples at Rs 9.50 per kg, which is Re 1 higher than last year’s price.
Adani Agri Fresh had entered into the apple procurement in Himachal in 2016 after establishing three controlled atmosphere facilities or cold stores in Rohru (10,000 MT), Sainj (6,000 MT) and Rampur (6,000 MT) with an estimated cost of Rs 200 crore. Adani sells apples under the brand name ‘Farm-Pik’ and supply from these cold stores to various markets in the country starts generally in January.
The efficient marketing intelligence system can increase apple rates up to 40% and the state government needs to focus, claims Ravinder Sharma, director of research at Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan. As per Sharma, there are three important factors in the market system – producers’ share out of the total sale price of apple, price spread of the produce or the number of middlemen in the entire chain, and proportion of ultimate consumer’s income spent on apple purchase. He advocates opening up of a more cold stores in the government as well as private sector in apple producing areas and provision of subsidy to farmers’ cooperatives so that they can store the produce when there is glut in the market.
“We have multifarious problems. When apple producers can directly import apple plants from abroad, why can’t they produce quality apples of international standards and export rather than getting cheated in the domestic market?” He emphasised since buyers are as important as sellers in any market, there should be a competition by allowing more private players so as to avoid monopoly of the APMC, which has failed in its duty. But there must also be market intervention by the state government to ensure farmers are not cheated, he adds.
Lone CPIM MLA in Himachal Pradesh Rakesh Singha, who comes from the apple growing Theog assembly segment and owns apple orchard in Kotgarh, rues that the successive state governments have failed to even implement The Himachal Pradesh Agricultural and Horticultural Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) Act, 2005, especially section 39 about the power and functions of APMC.