Shimla Apples and the Ethical Consumer

Apples are one of those fruits that everybody is familiar with. It travels well, it packs in a lot of nutrition and there are few things better than biting into a crisp apple. About 95% of India's apple area falls under the north western hills region, covering six districts of Jammu and Kashmir, six districts of Himachal Pradesh and eight districts of Uttarakhand. In the South of India, about ten years ago we used to be able to buy apples from Shimla but now a majority of apples we have here are imported from Washington, USA.

To be an ethical apple consumer in the South is near impossible. Imported apples have all but phased out Indian apples. This is shame because India ranks second in the world in terms of area under apple cultivation. Among the fruits grown in India, apple has the third largest area under cultivation after banana and mango. India is ranked 7th in terms of apple production with about 3% of global production (two mt).

Temperature fluctuations due to the slow warming up of lower altitudes is affecting apple farming adversely. Apples require 1,600 hours of chilling during the dormant stage for a healthy crop but this is not fully met, temperature fluctuations also increase the occurrence of mite - all of these factors contribute towards the decline of Indian apples. In June this year, the apple industry had a bumper crop of 510,000 tonnes but most of these found their way only to North Indian consumers in Chandigarh, Amritsar and Delhi.

India's growing population, shrinking supply of arable land, and rising economy create a potentially lucrative market for U.S. food ingredients, seeds, technology, food processing machinery, and more. Even though India’s 50% import tariff on apples is one of the highest in the world, high marketing margins account for the largest share of the consumer price of both domestic and imported apples in India. As a result, increased investment and competition in the domestic supply chain is likely to be particularly effective in boosting apple demand and imports.

Apples dominate the imported fruit market in India with a giant share of 58%, followed by oranges, grapes and pears. In 2009-10 India imported 99,000 tonnes of apples valued at $91.8 million. In spite of transportation logistics of Indian apples to the South, the Government should be doing more to increase the profile of home-grown fruit. Surely, it will be cheaper than imported fruit and will tremendously reduce the carbon footprint of transportation. Indian imports of food products is pegged at around $1.2-1.4 billion, and this excludes essential bulk import items like cereal grains, edible oil, pulses and so on.

Transportation is not the only reason why South Indians cannot buy Indian-grown apples. Fragmented supply chains have resulted in compounding margins. Additionally heavy regulation, high capital costs and cheaper imports have ensured that it is 'easier' to buy foreign apples.