Nepalis working at the apple orchard. (File Photo/Life in Shimla
SHIMLA: The Himachal Pradesh government has sought an pproval from the central government to bring back workers from Nepal for the upcoming apple season in the state, said Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur.
Although harvesting of the apple crop is a few months away, Vinod Chauhan from Ratnari gram panchayat in Kotkhai district is not sure whether the migrant workforce from Nepal will be available because of the lockdown across the country, Business Line reported.
Normally, Nepali workers leave the State before the Dashain festival and are back by April-end or May. But there is a question mark on whether they will be able to make it back in time this season.
Chauhan has 2,000 apple trees, and he hires at least 40 migrant laborers every harvesting season. The apple economy in the State is dependent to a large extent on migrant workers from Nepal, who are capable of carrying heavy loads of apples on the hilly tracts, and perform other harvest-related chores.
Farmers in Himachal Pradesh’s apple orchards are facing labor shortage as more and more Nepalis labors are moving to the Persian Gulf and the West Asia region in search of relatively high-paying jobs.
For over half a century, Nepalis in large numbers have been coming to Himachal Pradesh’s scenic mountains to work as laborers at the apple orchards.
Apple is the largest cash crop of Himachal Pradesh that fetches Rs 35 billion as more and more land comes under apple cultivation every year.
The biggest concern in the last couple of years for farm owners is the labor shortage as Nepalis are opting to go to Dubai and Qatar in hopes of making more money.
The flight of labor overseas is bound to hit farm work in Himachal mid-hills which produces a third of India’s apple.
Most of the works at the apple orchard has been traditionally done by Nepali men who are at ease in this harsh Himalayan terrain. The work involves carrying heavy loads on the steep terrain to the nearest godown.
“Believe me, only Nepalis can do this tough work as they come from the land of the Everest. Thanks to the very steep mountains, scope for mechanized farming is limited here,” Business Standard quoted Rajeev Chauhan, chairman of the Himalayan apple growers’ society, as saying.
Although there are no exact numbers available but thousands of Nepali young men descend from Nepal to work in Himachal’s apple farms every summer for harvesting and return home in a few months. Some choose to stay back with their families and manage the orchard for much of the year.
As per estimates, around 400,000 to 500,000 laborers are engaged during the apple season, out of which 75% are from Nepal. Many of them are also engaged in construction activities by private contractors.
(With inputs from Agencies)