Sweet cherries gone sour for Himachal growers

Shimla, May 30 (IANS) A bumper sweet cherry crop this year has gone sour for farmers in Himachal Pradesh. The high yield has pushed prices so low that growers are getting 25 to 35 percent less than what they received last year.

Horticulture department officials say the total cherry production is set to touch a record 1,000 tonnes. It was 419 tonnes in the last fiscal and 698 tonnes in 2007-08.

As a result, market prices have dropped heavily fetching very low returns to the growers. ‘The high production of cherries has considerably brought down the prices,’ Gopal Mehta, a prominent grower in upper Shimla, told IANS.

He said the best varieties of black cherry picked from organic farms was selling at Rs.230 to Rs.270 a kg in the Delhi wholesale market this year, whereas it fetched between Rs.350 and Rs.380 last year.

A high yield in other cherry-growing states like Jammu and Kashmir has led to a glut in the market, said Diwan Negi, another grower.

‘We are selling a box of ordinary red cherries in the wholesale market in Chandigarh at Rs.80-100. Last year the price was above Rs.150,’ Negi said.

According to him, the farmers are hardly making any profit as the costs of labour, packaging and transportation have risen manifold over the year.

Said Sahzad Mian, a trader from Delhi: ‘We are daily procuring 500 to 1,000 boxes of high quality cherries from Narkanda. This year the prices are quite comfortable.’

Narkanda, some 65 km from Shimla, is the hub of cherry production. Cherries are mainly grown in the higher reaches of Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Chamba, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti districts. At least 10,000 small farmers grow cherries on 405 hectares as an alternative crop.

Horticulture director Gurdev Singh said some of the farmers are just dumping the crop.

‘Without studying the proper market mechanism like its demand and supply, they are sending their produce to those markets which have already been flooded with cherries. Since the shelf life of the cherry is five to six days, the farmers are selling the crop in panic,’ he said.

Cherry harvesting in the state will continue till July 15.

The economy of Himachal Pradesh is dependent on horticulture, apart from hydroelectric power and tourism. Besides cherry, apple, kiwi, strawberry, pears, peaches, apricots, almonds and plums are the major commercial crops of the state.

The fruit industry is worth about Rs.2,000 crore annually.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])