Damaged crop dampens wedding season in ‘apple bowl’ of Kashmir
Devastated orchard owners try to mend trees felled by untimely snowfall, say compensation announced is just a speck in comparison to the losses
November is the peak wedding season in south Kashmir’s ‘apple bowl’ Shopian. But Riyaz Dar, an orchard owner from Hirpora village in the district, has decided to postpone his sister’s wedding following the snowfall which devastated the standing crop and inflicted vertical split in 63 of his 100 trees.
“I was waiting to sell off unharvested apple in the second week of November. We were expecting good money to marry my sister off. But instead of wedding preparations, I am busy drilling the broken tree trunks to rejoin them with large screws. My fingers are crossed on how many will survive and how many will bear fruits again,” said Dar.
Kashmir witnessed untimely heavy snowfall in the plains on November 3-4, acting as an axe for the thousands of harvested and unharvested apple trees in south, central and north Kashmir. Two major apple varieties, the tangy Ambri and sweet Golden, mainly harvested in November, were badly impacted and are unlikely to hit the country’s markets in bulk this season.
Experts during the meeting of the State Disaster Response Fund, headed by Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, on Friday warned that returns from the horticulture crops, especially apple, “will dip for the next two to three years”, fuelling rise in apple prices across the country.
A preliminary report of the Horticulture Department suggests that fresh plantation in 6,000 out of 20,000 hectare has been damaged. “Fifteen lakh trees have been damaged due to the snowfall,” said Director (Horticulture) Manzoor Ahmad Qadri. Around 1.44 lakh hectare is under apple cultivation in Kashmir.
Mr. Qadri said scientists and experts have been deployed to assess the losses, including the future fruitbearing capacity of partially damaged trees. “Technical support is being provided for binding of damaged trees for their recovery,” he said. The State administration has declared the untimely snowfall a “special natural calamity” to provide relief to the affected orchard owners.
It announced ₹36,000 per hectare as damage to perennial crops like apple.
Loss of ₹52,000 per tree
However, the compensation may not suffice or compensate the losses.
Lubna Beg, Chief Horticulture Officer of KhiramSirhama villages, declared as model apple villages in south Kashmir, told
that the loss per damaged tree aged between 21 to
30 years worked out to ₹52,000. “Besides the vertical splits, which may be corrected, snow also chopped off the fruit bearing branches. A well-curated apple tree has potential to bear 20 boxes of apples from one branch. The loss is so huge that it may even require all State employees to donate a day’s salary,” said Ms. Beg.
According to the Horticulture Department, apple harvest was likely to cross the previous record of 17.9 metric tonnes of production reached in 2017 (from 11 metric tonnes in 2011). Kashmir accounts for 71% of national apple production, worth ₹6,500 crore.
The snow also uprooted the newly-introduced M-5 and M-6 varieties of high yielding and high density trees, which allows a farmer to produce 25 metric tonne per annum per hectare, unlike 10 to 12 metric tonne from traditional trees. Official figures suggest that seven lakh farming families, with a population of 33 lakh, are directly or indirectly dependent on apple production.
“The compensation given to us is just a speck in comparison to the short-term and long-term losses,” said Nazeer Ahmad, a member of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers-Cum-Dealers Union. “We demand implementation of the horticulture crop insurance scheme, exemption of loans and waiver of interest on the bank accounts,” he said.