Apple economy latest casualty in strife-torn Kashmir
Losses piling up
Kashmir's apple orchards, a backbone of the economy that supports nearly half the people living there, are deserted with fruit rotting on the trees at a time when they should be bustling with harvesters.
A silent war on stomachs
Apple growers were expecting a bumper crop this year. Now, they say, losses are in the millions of dollars and the business might suffer its worst year since the beginning of the insurgency that has resulted in almost 70,000 deaths.
Ghosts from the past
More than two months later, the region remains under a communications blockade. Authorities have restored landline services and some cellphones, but not internet, making it difficult to reach traders outside the region to conduct business.
``It all started in August. We haven't recovered since,'' Shafi said.
Killings reported from the valley
That followed the arrests Tuesday of two militants suspected of shooting dead a truck driver near an apple orchard where he had collected 800 boxes of fruit.On Sept. 6, unknown gunmen fired at a fruit trader in northern Sopore, injuring him and four members of his family.
So, the orchards lie empty of harvesters, as overripe fruit ripens and thuds to the ground.
``It will take us years to recover from this shock,'' said Basheer Ahmad Basheer, who heads an apple growers' union in Srinagar. The authorities set up four wholesale markets to help support the industry, but as of Oct. 6 those markets had only managed to buy $300,000 worth of apples out of what was expected to be a crop worth close to $1.9 billion this year.
``We have only managed to dispatch two trucks from this place to outside Kashmir,'' said Anshul Mittal, a government official at a wholesale market set up in Parimpora, Srinagar.
Many of the more than one dozen officials sent to help out at the market said the effort was failing, partly because truckers are refusing to take the risk of shipping the apples. None wanted to be named as they feared retribution from higher-ups.
Unemployment, debt follows
The despair trickles down to unskilled workers like 22-year-old Sheeraz Ahman, who was counting on 45 days of work to earn more than $400 to help support his family. So far, he's only gotten five days of work. ``We are in a desperate situation,'' Ahmad said.
Still, there are fewer laborers looking for work than usual: many left the region at the same time tourists were advised to get out in August.