Indian apple growers assess cost of climate crisis as snow decimates crops | Global development
The locally grown apple is at risk of becoming a rarity in India, as farmers have lost up to half of their harvest this year, with predictions that the country’s major orchards could soon be all but wiped out.
The first snowfall in Kashmir, where nearly 80% of India’s apples are grown, saw farmers in the region lose half of their crops in the third year of disastrous harvests.
Officials are trying to calculate the loss to the apple industry, which contributes nearly a third – 50 billion rupees (£ 500 million) – to the local economy each year. Apples are sold in fruit markets across India and some are exported.
Researchers have warned that orchards in the Kashmir Valley, which is surrounded by the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal Mountains, risk becoming unsustainable in the coming years as the climate crisis affects production.
The past 20 years have seen gradual changes in weather conditions in the region, which have intensified over the past five years. This is the third year that harvests have been affected by early and heavier snowfall in the Kashmir Valley.
According to the Kashmir Department of Horticulture, 5 billion rupees were lost during the harvest in 2018. This figure rose to 22.5 billion rupees in 2019, which saw the heaviest snowfall than Kashmir. have known in 60 years.
“In light of climate change, apple harvest is unsustainable [here]”said Dr Irfan Rashid, assistant professor at the University of Kashmir.
“Usually Kashmir receives snowfall after December 15th, but in the last two decades we are experiencing early snowfall. The harvest time for many varieties of apples is November. In the last five years we have had three irregular snowfalls and in the future the situation could get worse.
He added, “Climate models predict a very grim scenario when it comes to erratic weather. The Himalayas, which includes this region, are going to receive more frequent extreme events as we move through the century. It is quite normal for Kashmir to witness extreme weather events. “
In response to the crisis, officials from Kashmir’s horticulture department have encouraged farmers to plant new imported “high density” varieties, which are harvested earlier than existing crops. The government has promoted subsidy programs to help farmers buy and market new varieties and wants to increase the amount of land used for cultivation.
Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, director general of the horticultural department, said: “We cannot stop what is coming. The only way out is the conversion to high density varieties. “
Research published this year suggested that new varieties could generate significant economic returns and outweigh the high upfront expenses.
Rashid said the government’s strategy could help mitigate the impact of irregular snowfall, but added it would lead to the loss of local varieties.
“Already local varieties like ragweed are declining,” he said.
Farmers have been reluctant to adopt new varieties, highlighting the disappointing results of the pilot projects.
“Switching to high-density varieties is not easy for us,” said Nawaz Ahmad Thoker, a farmer from Ramnagri, a sleepy village surrounded by orchards in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. “We will have to uproot the existing orchard and then plant the new saplings, which will cost us dearly. “
Thoker, whose family has tended their seven-acre (2.8-hectare) orchard for 35 years, broke down when he documented damage to his crops after heavy snowfall in late October. The trunks of half the trees were split open and the branches still with their fruits attached were buried under six inches of snow.
He estimated he had lost 100,000 rupees (£ 1,000) which will mean a difficult year for him and his family as he struggles to pay for his children’s school and his parents’ health care .
“It was not just the harvest of the year lost before my eyes, but the three decades of hard work my family and I destroyed,” he said.
About 70% of its apple trees were damaged by early snowfall in 2018 and 2019.
“I’m thinking of doing some other job, maybe starting a business so my kids have a good future,” Thoker said. “It looks like our next generation won’t be able to see these apple orchards.”