There is an important lesson to be learnt from what recently happened to truckloads of apples. Trucks carrying ripe and red apples were on their way to markets across India when they were stuck along Srinagar-Jammu highway. The mess couldn’t be managed for several days despite assurances from the highest echelons of power. By the time the crisis was resolved, the losses were huge. The fruit had rotten, leaving the orchardists distraught. This year, like the past several years, has been difficult for Kashmir’s horticulture industry. From natural causes like unseasonal snowfalls to spring heatwaves to man-made disasters like blockade of highways and unavailability of the local processing industry, the fruit industry is facing a difficult time.
This is why there is a lesson to be learnt from the ongoing crisis. The event of the past month is not, necessarily, going to be a one-off disaster. It may repeat itself – maybe every year. Maybe it will happen again next year and the year after that. Maybe it will happen again and again when the harvest is ready for the export. With a limited shelf life and limited transportation window, a repeat of such a crisis can sound a death knell to Kashmir’s horticulture industry.
So, what is the lesson? There is an urgent need for multiple processing units to be established within Kashmir that can transform and add value to the raw products. The transformation of the raw product into a processed one will not only increase profits and sale value, but it will also add more months of life to the product which can then be exported to markets across India and also to markets across continents.
There is an urgent need to establish Brand Kashmir. The first stage in this journey towards self-reliance is that the region needs state-of-the-art processing units, which will ensure quality of the processed product. While apples as a fruit may have a month-long shelf life, if processed into jam or juice, its shelf life can be expanded significantly and the transportation worries can be considerably eased.
While the processing units are important for the horticulture industry, which is a vital nerve of Kashmir’s rural economy with more than 35 lakh individuals directly or indirectly dependent on the industry, it is true for every other sector.
Take for example the story of Kashmir’s wool sector. Kashmir has more than two million sheep, many of them producing high-quality merino wool. The two million sheep approximately produce eight million kilograms of wool every year, which has the potential to be a significant addition to the region’s gross domestic product. The situation of this sector, however, is scary and a lesson for all other sectors to evolve.
Before the COVID years, the demand for the wool was good and a kilogram was sold at Rs 140, which would have generated approximately more than one billion rupees. The entire produce was exported to markets outside Jammu and Kashmir, mainly Punjab, where the wool was processed – washed, made into yarn and then into final products like sweaters and blankets. It is a general estimate that 20 kilograms of greasy fleece can be used to produce 35 woolen sweaters, each costing between Rs 3000 to Rs 9000 in the retail market, depending on the marketing of the brand. In 2020, New Zealand exported wool worth $243M.
The tragedy of the wool sector, however, has been the post-COVID years when the export demand for raw wool crashed and the prices slid from Rs 140 per kg to Rs 20. With no wool processing unit available in Kashmir that could transform raw wool into a processed product or even wash it and turn it into yarn, many sheep farmers have thrown bags of wool into garbage.
There has to be an urgency in making Kashmir economically self-reliant and this cannot be done without introducing a wide range of processing facilities in the region. While the administration can do little, other than offering subsidies, a young generation of entrepreneurs can step forward and take an initiative. There is a huge potential and profit in the processing industry. Even though setting up a unit can be tiring, it is equally rewarding and an investment of a lifetime.
Kashmir produces large quantities of raw products, much of which is exported to outside markets – at the price of peanuts – where it is processed and the products brought into Kashmir at significantly high rates.
While individual entrepreneurs can work their way into the sector of processed units, a cluster of entrepreneurs is best suited for these ventures and transforming the way the businesses operate in the region.
While a small number of processing units exist in the region, like bottled water processing units or processed spice units, there is a huge gap in the supply and demand. In many segments, the supply and demand is met with 100 percent imports.
The entrepreneurial venturism into processed industry is vital for Kashmir’s economic existence. It is evident from the recent apple transportation fiasco. If the individual entrepreneurs are not able to come forward, the village-level self-help groups or block-level cooperative societies can be formed to take up this challenge. The format of Amul – a cooperative society – is an example to be followed and replicated. Amul now generates a revenue of Rs 50,000 crore.