An Apple From Farm To Fork: Addressing Post-Harvest Losses In Apple Produce Of India

Despite the growing market price of the apple in the national market along with the increasing quantity of apple being produced, the revenue generated from the production and eventual sale of the apple produce hasn’t seen any significant and remarkable rise. 

A Kashmiri farmer pick fresh apples from a tree in an orchard during harvesting season

The economic development pocketed in the examples of regions, states, countries, sub-continents and continents has been validated to be based on the place’s comparative advantage. Comparative advantage can be defined as a situation in which a region/economy is successful in identifying its strength sectors and harnessing the benefits from the same. A situation of comparative advantage gives a region an edge over the time trajectory of development and helps in cumulating the growth process which eventually translates into development in the longer run. 

As such, instances from around the world like Crude Oil exports from Saudi Arabia, Lumber exports from Canada, and IT services exports from India among many others have directly validated the merits of harnessing the comparative advantages. Having realised the virtues of harnessing the comparative advantages, it is essential that the economic policy is designed in awareness of the same. The planned developmental process that has been central to the Indian economy has at times taken the axiom of comparative advantage into consideration and at times hasn’t. However, in order to catch up with the developmental progression, the developmental policy of India needs to harness the benefits of the mosaic of its comparative advantages in the immediate time period. 

Validating the same, for one of the distinct regions of India; the region of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), which is the major apple producer in the country, the latest empirical research has confirmed that J&K has a huge potential and evolving comparative advantage in the apple segment of the horticulture sector. Realising the potential gains from the produce derived from this sector, people living in the region have been incentivised to increase its production. As such, over time in J&K a considerable shift has been realised in the area under apple cultivation. 

National level data reveals that being the largest apple producing state in India, for the year 2022-23, the region has produced an approximate quantity of 1,71,9000 tons of apple. This constitutes 71 per cent of total apple produce of India, followed by Himachal Pradesh and scantly by other hilly states including Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland etc.. Despite the growing market price of the apple in the national market along with the increasing quantity of apple being produced, the revenue generated from the production and eventual sale of the apple produce hasn’t seen any significant and remarkable rise. 

In the absence of a well-established and innovative apple processing segment of the domestic economy, one of the main reasons behind the stagnation of the apple segment is the enormous post-harvest loss that this sub-sector faces. The problem of losing the produce due to its limited natural shelf life has accumulated over the years. This obstinate issue has had negative implications for food security which is a grave concern apart from continuing to be a fundamental issue concerning the farmers’ incomes hence warranting attention and action. According to recent research, an estimated 30 per cent of the yearly apple harvest is wasted in India (predominantly concerning the states of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh). This significant figure can be attributed to a variety of issues, including faulty harvesting procedures, defective transport and inadequate cold storage facilities. Information asymmetry and lack of up-to-date know-how dissemination however center at the core of this persistent issue of post-harvest loss and the ensuing structural economic damages.

Improper harvesting methods employed in orchards lead to physical harm to the produce, making the fruit vulnerable to rot in the following phases. Astonishingly, it has been observed that approximately 15 per cent of losses manifest during this preliminary phase, establishing a precedent for subsequent difficulties. The function of storage conditions is crucial, as a substantial part of losses might be attributed to insufficient facilities. Extended periods of storage, which are frequently required for the purpose of distributing products in the market, have a detrimental impact on the longevity of the goods, resulting in an additional 10 per cent of annual losses. Transportation-related challenges, which account for approximately five per cent of overall losses, arise mostly due to the mishandling of goods and the utilisation of inadequate packaging methods. 

The deterioration of apple produce during transportation is exacerbated by mechanical damage, which has a detrimental effect on the overall quality of the apples that ultimately reach the market. Pests, illnesses, and susceptibility to ethylene collectively contribute to an extra eight per cent of agricultural losses. Furthermore, the lack of continuous cold chain facilities exacerbates this difficulty, resulting in a seven per cent loss attributed to temperature changes during the transit and storage processes. The losses incurred by farmers and the persistent economic issues they face can be attributed to market access limitations and infrastructure bottlenecks, which collectively account for around six per cent of these losses. These factors restrict the ability of farmers to effectively reach wider markets and hinder their overall economic prospects. The inadequate use of post-harvest technology, such as controlled environment storage, is also a contributing factor to losses, accounting for approximately four per cent of the overall annual total.

The mitigation of these losses requires a comprehensive approach. The implementation of enhanced harvesting methods, improved storage and transportation infrastructure, and the extensive integration of post-harvest technology are of utmost importance. In addition, it is imperative to implement public awareness efforts that specifically target industry players and consumers to effectively alter consumption patterns.

Consumers also have a scope to make a substantial contribution to lowering losses by implementing appropriate storage techniques, limiting excessive purchases, and reassessing aesthetic preferences. The development and implementation of effective programs necessitate collaborative endeavors that bring together government entities, farmers, industry stakeholders, and researchers. By proactively tackling the issue of post-harvest losses, the apple supply chain in India has the capacity to enhance the financial well-being of the concerned farmers and strengthen the food security of the region, harnessing economic tickle-down to the whole Indian economy. 

With the successful harnessing of comparative advantages in one sector of one region of India, a triumphant developmental strategy can be validated, and a renewed developmental policy can be charted out. The developmental catching-up can eventually be well taken care of.

(Dr. Basharat is a Food Technologist and Dr. Mehak is an Economist. Both are affiliated with the IUST University Jammu and Kashmir, India & can be reached at / )