Kashmiri apple varieties are bearing the brunt of trade malpractices at the hands of growers and traders who have been making enormous use of ripening agents and artificial colours to market their premature-season yield.
Although the early season apple varieties like Hazratbali, Candition and Shimla have already been cultivated months ago, there is no end to use of ripening agents in the late-ripening apple varieties like Red Delicious and American’ despite an official ban on the colour sprays.
Nursery Registration Officer in Horticulture department, Tasaduk Mueen said that the department has already given instructions to the growers not to use ripening agents like Ethephon.
“But, they still continue to do so,” Mueen told Rising Kashmir.
He said the field officers of the Horticulture department have been directed to keep a check on the sale points of Ethephon to bring an end to its use as it is banned.
Reports said in order to avoid damage to trees, the growers have now adopted a new practice of spraying Ethephon to apples by laying the fruits on the ground after plucking them from trees.
Mueen admitted that some growers in Valley have resorted to spraying the chemical over the apples after picking them from trees.
“This is more dangerous. Because of the fact that once the fruit has been harvested its nutritional flow discontinues and the chemical though being dilute gets concentrated,” He explained.
According to the Horticulture official Ethephon is the major ripening agent produced naturally within the fruits that initiates the process of ripening.
Ripening is a natural process in which fruit goes through various chemical changes and gradually becomes sweet, coloured, soft and palatable.
“The pesticide market is predominated with various artificial methods of fruit ripening chemicals like ethanol, methanol, ethylene glycol, ethephon, calcium carbide that are used to ripen different kinds of fruits and vegetables,” said Mueen.
The harvesting period for the early-season varieties of Kashmiri apples begin by mid-July and lasts till late August.
Although the fruits that are sprayed with artificial colouring agents have a sweet taste on the other hand, such fruits have a short shelf life, said the horticulture official.
Despite its various harmful effects on human health, artificial fruit ripening has become a standard practice in Kashmir.
Nasir Rather, a grower hailing from Hyderpora who owns a farm in Tral, said that spraying synthetic ripening agents to different varieties of apples is bringing a bad name to apple industry as it deteriorates the quality and taste of this fruit.
The easy availability of the chemical makes it easy for the growers to use it in huge quantities.
Some growers, however, justify the use of the ripening chemicals saying apples somehow have become used to these ripening agents.
Ghulam Nabi Dar, another grower from Anantnag said that in order to save their yield they are left with no other alternative but to spray the fruits with ripening agents.
“If the apple trees of early-yield varieties are not sprayed with these artificial ripening agents, then we need to pick the apples one at a time from the trees as natural ripening process does not take place all at one fell swoop. The apples are either eaten by the birds or trip over from the trees,” Dar said.
Dar said the horticultural experts should bring some alternatives which are not detrimental and could substitute the role played by the otherwise harmful ripening agents.
According to an order issued by Horticulture department in August this year, the department made it imperative on the enforcement machinery of the department to keep a strict vigil on the use or sale of the ripening agents.
The enforcement officials should take stern action against the violators, besides the field officers need to generate awareness among the growers about the ill effects of the Growth Regulate, reads the order, a copy of which with Rising Kashmir.
The official order, issued by director Horticulture, mentioned the various reports on the use of ripening agents illegally in various pockets of the province.
“The use of ripening agents is a serious violation of the Government order besides its ill effects upon the apple industry and also on the human health,” noted the order asking the field officers to conduct regular awareness camps for educating the growers about the ill effects of Ethephon.
Moreover, the designated insecticide inspectors of the department have been directed to conduct regular inspections of the pesticide or insecticide dealers, and take stern action against the violators or defaulters as per provisions of the law in vogue.