What worries the farmers is the damage to apple trees that are yet to be pruned.
SRINAGAR — Early snowfall in the upper reaches of south Kashmir’s Shopian district is proving devastating for the apple farmers with the ‘untimely’ snowfall, damaging the apple trees.
The higher reaches of Kashmir valley Saturday received a low to moderate snowfall triggering concerns among the apple farmers, particularly in the Shopian district where apple harvesting was at its peak.
Trees at many places were damaged due to the early snowfall, particularly in Kilam, Bamno, Keller and Hirpora areas of the district.
Farooq Ahmad Rather, a farmer, said that the snowfall has shattered the hopes of many farmers who were expecting a good return. For now, Rather prays that the snowfall stops.
An estimated 2.5 million out of Kashmir’s eight million population are believed to be directly or indirectly dependent on horticulture, particularly apple crop, which has an annual turnover of Rs 5,000 to 6,000 crores.
Since the trees are full of leaves, even an inch of snowfall ravages the apple trees, said Mukhtar Ahmad, another apple trader. “It is difficult for Apple trees to bear the additional load of snow.”
The snowfall particularly damages the joints that are mostly grafted for desired varieties. He said that farmers are still busy harvesting, and have not pruned the leaves yet.
Rather said that in the last year too, the branches of his trees were damaged due to snowfall and that there was a drastic fall in fruit yield.
While most of the trees in Shopian have suffered partial damage, a number of trees have been uprooted causing a huge loss to the farmers.
Ishtiyaq Ahmad, a Shopian farmer, said that people are unable to tackle the situation. He said that they are unable to do much in this tough weather. “Snow gets stuck on the branches and it is very difficult to clear it, because there are chances of causing more damage to the trees.”
In 2018, almost 20 per cent of the crops were damaged in South Kashmir alone and caused an estimated loss of around Rs 1000 crores.
“The relief from the horticulture department hardly compensates the losses. People are promised full compensation but they aren’t fully paid,” Sofi said.
The restive Kashmir valley is witnessing an early onset of winter, as temperatures have dropped suddenly for the past one week.
The Meteorological Department (MeT) had issued a weather advisory, following which the department of horticulture had directed farmers and fruit growers to speed up harvesting.
The Director-General of Horticulture, Ajaz Bhat, had issued a seven-point advisory to farmers, which included harvesting apples and pruning of trees to avoid damage. The farmers, however, say that they could not have done so much in just four days.
According to the official data, of the total 4.56 crore fruit-bearing trees in Kashmir, a majority produce a variety of apples, with one of the most popular varieties, are harvested during late October. The apple industry in Kashmir contributes about 8 per cent to the J&K’s gross domestic product (GDP), with over three million people directly or indirectly dependent on the trade.
What worries the farmers is not the effect of weather on the apple produce but the damage to the apple trees that are yet to be pruned and have foliage intact. The farmers said that the damage to trees is more devastating and has an effect on the next year’s produce as well.
In a letter addressed to New Delhi appointed Governor, Manoj Sinha, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers cum Dealers Association expressed anxiety as the untimely heavy snow and rainfall has damaged and destroyed apple crop.
The association said that fifty per cent of “A grade” delicious type crops were still being harvested especially in Shopian and Kulgam and 30 per cent in Central and North Kashmir. The trees were laden with ripe fruit and the stakeholders whose livelihoods are associated with the industry were expecting good returns.”
However, due to damage, the hopes have been dashed to the ground, the statement said. The association urged the LG to depute concerned departments to assess and report the loss.
Basit Parray is a trainee staff writer at the Mountain Ink. He is a bachelor's student of Journalism & Mass Communication at the Cluster University, Srinagar.