AS THE pandemic forced the world indoors, Ehsan Quddusi, a software developer, began taking an interest in his family’s apple orchards in Kashmir. Over the next few months, he realised the need for specialised solutions for the farmers and started connecting with friends.
Those conversations led to the development of Orchardly — a mobile app that provides real-time microclimate alerts, advice on pruning schedules and disease control, even soil-testing facilities.
Launched just six months ago, Orchardly already connects over 5,500 farmers across Kashmir, helping them reap the benefits of high density apple production in small land holdings. While the service is currently available free of cost, the founders are considering subscription options for those with larger land holdings.
“We had set up a high density orchard at our home in Tral (Pulwama) but very quickly I realised the vacuum around the technical aspects of this method of farming. So I got together with two of my friends and we developed this app,” Ehsan said.
The 25-year-old brought his tech background to the table, having worked for more than 12 years in the IT sector. And his friends, Orchardly co-founders and brothers Izhan Javed and Uzair Javed, who run a supply chain business of their own, chipped in with expertise. Izhan holds an M.Sc in Operations and Supply Chain from the University of Manchester while Uzair studied B.Com at the Islamic University of Science and Technology in Kashmir.
Izhan primarily handles the post-harvest supply chain for the company while Uzair looks more at the pre-harvest side “involving orchard solutions and deliverables”.
“Earlier, the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology would provide information on annual schedules for spraying or pruning of the apple trees or rainfall schedule based on information from the previous years,” Uzair said. What bringing in technology does “is that we are providing real-time information”.
For instance, climatic conditions influence spraying, and traditional farming has largely relied on generic schedules. Orchardly is connected to its 39 weather centres across the valley and provides microclimate alerts through push notifications. “If it’s raining in Srinagar, it may not be raining in Anantnag. So it is better for every farmer to be able to make decisions based on their locations and not go by generic alerts,” Ehsan said.
Another major aspect is soil testing. “It is not common practice and when a farmer wants to avail this option, the government centres may take up to months to give them results. We are testing soil for free for those on our app and then educating them on how much pesticide they should use or the water content in the soil, among other concerns,” Ehsan said.
According to him, a team of agronomists helps farmers address specific concerns. Additionally, information on new pests is also shared to enable early action against diseases.
J&K produces approximately 15 lakh metric tonnes of apples in a year, with the majority coming from three districts of South Kashmir — Anantnag, Pulwama and Shopian. This year, the industry has hit a roadblock of sorts with fruit growers pointing to lower market rates.
“A 14-kg box of apples would usually go for about Rs 1,400 but is now going for Rs 700-800,” said Abdul Ahad, an apple trader from Sopore awaiting passage at the Qazigund tunnel. Farmers attributed the price dip to delays in getting their goods to markets owing to restrictions on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and the influx of Iranian apples.
For now, Orchardly is gaining ground through social media and word of mouth. “We have an all-woman staff and we are proud to be able to provide an opportunity for those graduating from our universities,” Ehsan said.
Asif Rather and his father Asadullah Rather, who own an orchard at Ganderbal, have been active users of the app for five months. Asif said that often reaching government officials for advice on disease control would be time-consuming. “Experts on the app get back very quickly and have been helpful in addressing issues of disease control,” Asif said.
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Bilal Ahmad, a 32-year-old farmer from Bijbehara in Anantnag, also a user of Orchardly, said that with the correct specifications on pruning and use of fertilisers, he has been able to increase production from a 1,000 to about 1,500 boxes in his small orchard.
But all of this presents a challenge for the company, too — on the way forward. “The company is currently bootstrapped. And we are using our own funds. If we are able to take off from the apple business, we will expand this support for other areas in the industry,” Ehsan said.