A bumper Himachal apple crop sets in the gloom

Shimla: It is harvest time in Himachal Pradesh’s sprawling apple belt.And the farmers are reaping the biggest harvest ever this year.This should have brought joy to farmers,instead it has brought in worry and sleepless nights.

Having just travelled through the leafy orchards,perched on tiny terraced fields,often enveloped by fog,I gathered some of the farmers’ concerns.

At first sight the trees are laden with delicious fruit.But a closer look reveals around 80 per cent of the standing crop is hail battered.

The hail has dented and cracked the fruit.Naturally, the demand and price of ugly apples is low.

As if the bad fruit and poor returns wasn’t enough to torment the farmers. An acute labour shortage is another anxiety this season.

Gorkhas are arriving in small numbers.These hardy men have for decades done the hard harvest work in the apple orchards, which often involves carrying heavy loads in the steep terrain.

Since the Gorkhas are few so far, they are most sought after.So they have begun to dictate their terms, and are demanding far higher wages.Farmers have no choice but to meekly give in.

As the harvest picks up shortage of pick-up vehicles and trucks is bound to add to the misery of the farmers.

The harvest peaks in late August and early September.

Farmers in the mid and high hills who pick the fruit at this time are worried if the state government will be able to bring in enough trucks to carry the produce in time to markets across the country.

Many farmers told me that even though last year the yield was the lowest in many years,at the end of the harvest they were happy as there was no labour,transport and bad fruit quality problems.

In fact last year apple farmers fetched the highest returns for every apple box they shipped to the market.If last year was a dream year for them.This year though it is back to reality !

Picture credit: File Photo’s My Himachal

In a 20 year career published widely. He has worked for the BBC, AFP, The Statesman, IANS and the Business Standard . Known for his hard hitting writing and occasional off-beat stories. He lives in Shimla.

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