Shopian, Nov 8: In the picturesque Shopian district in South Kashmir, 23-year-old Mohammad Irfan has found an unconventional way to earn a living. Unlike traditional guides who lead tourists through scenic landscapes and historic sites, Irfan’s expertise lies in guiding non-local truckers who flock to the area during the apple harvesting season, assisting them in their quest to ferry Kashmir’s coveted produce to distant markets outside J&K.
Irfan’s unique role has proven to be not only essential but also lucrative, allowing him to earn a commendable income of at least Rs 1000 a day as he directs trucks through the intricate web of apple villages in the district.
“We operate from Fruit Mandi Shopian and if the destination ( village) where a trucker has to load up his truck with apples is not so far, my daily earnings could go up to Rs 1500,” he said.
Numerous individuals like Irfan have carved out their livelihoods by serving as guides for truckers, and the apple harvesting season, in particular, opens up a plethora of opportunities for the local population.
With the onset of the harvesting season, thousands of people from the district earn their livelihood at Fruit Mandi Shopian by working as guides, loaders and helpers.
Mohammad Ashraf Wani, a fruit trader and former president of Fruit Mandi Shopian told Greater Kashmir that around 2000 to 3000 people during the harvesting season “find work at the fruit market.”
Underscoring the significance of the apple industry, Wani said, “The industry is not only about the fruit growers and traders it is also about the allied activity”.
At least 100 to 150 fruit-laden trucks leave daily for various outstation mandis from the area during the peak harvesting season, which begins in mid-August and lasts until November.
Javed Ahmad, who works as a guide cum loader said that he did not face any shortage of work for around 4 months.
” I earn a good living during this season,” he said.
Ahmad said that most people working in the mandi were local young men from the area.
Around 600 local and non-local fruit firms work in the mandi from August to December. Apart from these firms, several transport companies also operate in the area.
“They also generate employment during this season,” said a young agri-entrepreneur from the area.
The district is the biggest apple producer with around 26, 231 hectares of land under apple cultivation.