“We are heartbroken”: apple orchards buried in snow numb Kashmir growers

The torment of an apple grower. KO Photos by Abid Bhat

In the wake of a weather advisory, untimely snowfall ruined Kashmir’s apple orchards, leaving growers in a sad state of mind.

ARSHAD Ahmad and his two brothers were on their toes before autumn ended prematurely in Kashmir again.

The premature snowfall, warned by the Kashmir Department of Horticulture, brought tears to the brethren. A few hours before the disaster, they frantically pruned the branches of their apple orchard.

But despite the advice asking growers to speed up the harvest, Arshad said it was a daunting task given the recent departure of non-local labor from Kashmir.

Fears of large-scale damage to crops and trees came true on Saturday when snow and rain hit parts of Kashmir, including the Shopian of South Kashmir where Arshad lives.

“We are heartbroken,” said Arshad Observer of Kashmir. “This untimely snowfall once again devoured our harvest. “

On October 23, the higher parts of Kashmir received fresh snow as the rains hit the plains, lowering the temperature lower in the valley.

A meteorological service official informed that there was a possibility of more rain and snow until Sunday.

Behind the downpour, the MeT official said, is the western disturbance.

“The weather conditions would start to gradually improve from the afternoon of October 24 and the dry weather is expected to continue until November 2, 2021,” the meteorologist said.

In a final attempt to save his fruit-laden orchard from bad weather, Arshad had gathered more than half a dozen people, including his relatives and friends, to harvest the harvest. But untimely snowfall spoiled all his efforts.

“The problem was that over 60% of the apple crop was still green,” Arshad said. “It would take at least 20 more days for full bloom.”

Like last year, the onset of winter in Kashmir has once again disrupted the gains of horticulture – Kashmir’s largest industry and the backbone of the J&K economy. Almost 22 metric tonnes per lakh of apples are exported from the valley each year.

However, people in the industry became alarmed on October 19, when the Kashmir Department of Horticulture asked apple growers to speed up the apple harvest.

The advisory came against the backdrop of a warning from India Meteorological Development (IMD) that further western disturbance approaching the region could result in heavy snowfall and rain starting on Friday.

IMD has warned that heavy snowfall could damage apple orchards and temporarily disrupt traffic along major highways in hilly areas.

Advising apple growers to prune trees and ensure good drainage in their orchards, Ajaz A. Bhat, Director of Horticulture in Kashmir, said: “People should not panic but start working to save their orchards and their cultures.

But even as the advisory was issued hours before the snowfall, orchards in Kashmir called it “insane and absurd.” They argued that it was impossible to complete the harvest in a few days.

“How was it possible to prune with more than 50 percent of the crop still on the trees? Said Arshad.

In addition to pruning, the Department of Horticulture had asked apple growers to spray urea-based fertilizers on apple trees as a method of controlling damage.

Mobilized by the notice, the producers were on a desperate job before waking up on Saturday with the “scary scenes”.

As photos and videos of damaged apples and trees went viral on social media, people were once again lamenting the lost harvest season in the valley. Among those most affected were the orchards of Apple Town, Shopian.

Reports reaching Kashmir Observer said orchards in Herpora, Sedow Chekh, Kellar, Resh Nagri, Imam Sahib and other adjacent hamlets suffered losses in the snowfall.

In these southern parts of Kashmir, heavy snow has damaged branches and even uprooted trees in some areas. Many growers have been seen either clearing snow from their apple trees or praying for the calamity to end.

“We would harvest apples until November 15, when the harvest would be in full bloom,” said Mushtaq Malik, who owns more than 40 kanals of apple orchards in Shopian. Kashmir Observer.

“Unfortunately, this untimely snow has turned into a disaster for us.”

Malik, who is also president of the Shopian Fruit Association, said that before the snow disaster, growers were happy with this year’s “fruitful season”.

“Even the rotting of the fruit was very less, but this snow caused enormous damage at the last moment,” laments Malik.

Taking into account the losses suffered by the orchards due to the premature snowfall, the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCC & I) urged the administration to conduct an early assessment and compensation.

“As the bad weather arrived much earlier than usual, many orchards were still busy harvesting and had not cut the trees, which damaged many trees. This plunged the stakeholders into despair and sadness, ”said KCC & I.

In a letter to LG Manoj Sinha, the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Association also expressed concern about the unexpected heavy snowfall.

“50 percent of the ‘Grade A’ Delicious crops were still being harvested, especially in Shopian and Kulgam and 30 percent in the center and north,” the association said.

“The trees were laden with ripe fruit and stakeholders whose livelihoods are associated with the industry expected good yields. However, because of the damage, hopes were dashed. This is one of the worst experiences of the horticultural sector which is sucking up Kashmir’s GDP. “

In view of the damage, Lt. Gov. Farooq Khan’s advisor asked the director general of horticulture to personally oversee the process of assessing orchard and fruit losses in southern Kashmir.

“Councilor Farooq Khan also asked the principal secretary of the horticulture department to regularly monitor the exercise and provide all possible support to the orchards,” an official said.

While officials have admitted most apple orchards have suffered damage due to bad weather, growers fear heavy damage if the snowfall continues.

“We pray that this snow calamity is over now,” Arshad said. “If it continues like this, then we are doomed. “

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed


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