Apple farmers unite to fight middlemen, reap healthy profits

May 15, 2013

With the existence of apple collection centres, apple farmers from the local areas of Uttarakhand are able to sell their produce at market rates to the collective where the apples are then graded, sorted, packed and also pre-cooled for further storage.

Purola Naitwar

Shanti Devi owns a small orchard of 400 apple trees. Despite spending a sizeable amount of the family’s income on raising the trees, she has not been able to make any substantial money from her orchard. The only profit she made was two years back when her family harvested seven crates of apples which they ferried to Dehradun. The apple produce fetched them around Rs 7,000 of which they spent Rs 5,000 on transportation.

The modest earnings of Rs 2,000 did not even cover the costs of year-round tending of the trees and buying insecticides. Shanti Devi, who hails from a hilly village of Mairana in Purola sub-division of Uttarkashi is just one of the thousands of other small apple growers in the Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh who battle unfavourable weather conditions, an unpredictable market and also fleecing middlemen.

Five years ago, in 2008, Shri Jagdamba Samiti (SJS), a local NGO approached the farmers of Nogaon and proposed to set up a collection centre which would buy apples at the market price. The collection centre was to be managed by a joint venture company (JVC) formed jointly with the farmer trust and project partners, SJS, and FFT, a Dutch company, which has come forward for establishing cold storage facilities in the area.

With the existence of collection centres, farmers from the local areas including Syuri, Dhari, Tyuni, Purola, Chausal, Harsil in Uttarakhand sell their produce at market rates to the collective where the collected apples are then graded, sorted, packed and also pre-cooled for further storage.

The burden of individuals like Shanti Devi is now shared by six JVCs which are being run in partnership with farmer’s trusts. The procurement price of the apples is now decided by a group of farmers owning these JVCs. One of the JVCs also runs a cold storage facility which takes care of the post-harvest responsibilities of apple growers, especially marginalised farmers and has provided a security blanket to them.

The long-term storage facility has not just relieved the farmers from the pressure of hunting market for their apples at an optimum cost but also brought them good dividends in the form of premiums. The premiums are paid to the farmers from the profit made by the company after selling apples in Delhi, Dehradun and Kanpur.

Amar Singh Kafola, Farmer Director of KINCAID India, one of the JVCs which runs the cold storage, said that the JVCs are responsible for the grading, sorting and packaging of the apples collected through the six collection firms. “It is not an easy job for individual farmers to manage the transportation and marketing of apples, especially in the rainy season when the produce is ready for the markets but could not be transported due to bad weather,” Kafola said.

Laxmi Prakash Semwal, Chairman of SJS, a Rishikesh-based NGO, is the man behind the apple project in Uttarakhand. Semwal believes that a business-driven model can not only empower the marginalised farmers but also makes the occupation of apple cultivation sustainable. The apple project is a joint initiative between SJS, the Dutch investor Stichting Het Groene Woudt (SHGW), technology provider Fresh Food Technology (FFT) from the Netherlands and local farmers.

Shanti Devi has hopes in the cold storage facility that not only gives her apples a longer life but also cuts out the middlemen.

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India’s Minister for Water Resources, Harish Rawat, lauds the innovative apple project of Uttarakhand, a model that has freed small apple farmers from the clutches of middlemen besides introducing business acumen in them.
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