Kash­mir’s ap­ple grow­ers buried by wild weather

Gulf Times - - COMMENT - By Ashutosh Sharma

Novem­ber is the peak wed­ding sea­son in In­dia’s Kash­mir re­gion. But Riyaz Dar’s sis­ter didn’t get mar­ried last month, as planned.

Un­usu­ally early and heavy snow­fall split the trunks of 60 of Dar’s 100 ap­ple trees in Novem­ber, lead­ing to huge ap­ple — and fi­nan­cial — losses just be­fore the har­vest in Shopian, a re­gion known as Kash­mir’s ap­ple bowl.

“Even if the cli­mate re­mains favourable in the years to come, I will get only 40% (of the ap­ples) I used to har­vest,” lamented the farmer from the vil­lage of Hir­pora.

The snow will cut his in­come by 60% this year, he said — and the bad times will last un­til he can re­plant or re­pair all his dam­aged trees.

Heavy mid-au­tumn snow in the Kash­mir Val­ley has wreaked havoc on the re­gion’s famed or­chards, se­verely dam­ag­ing ap­ple, apri­cot, cherry, wal­nut and al­mond trees.

Ap­ple grow­ers have been hard­est hit, with the snow de­stroy­ing not just this sea­son’s ap­ple crop but the heav­ily laden trees them­selves.

Man­zoor Ahmed Qadri, hor­ti­cul­ture di­rec­tor for Jammu and Kash­mir state, said over 1.5mn ap­ple trees had been dam­aged — a ma­jor eco­nomic threat in a re­gion where half a mil­lion fam­i­lies de­pend on fruit for jobs and pro­duce pro­vides 7% of the state’s GDP.

Of­fi­cials blame the dis­as­ter on in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable weather as­so­ci­ated with cli­mate change, which they say is lead­ing to a range of costly prob­lems across the re­gion.

The risks are par­tic­u­larly se­ri­ous, they say, be­cause there is so far lit­tle in place, from in­sur­ance to sub­stan­tive com­pen­sa­tion, to help farm­ers deal with the risks.

“A tree takes at least a decade to ma­ture, and the snow­fall has ru­ined the hard work of years for farm­ers,” lamented Ashok Dhawale, pres­i­dent of All In­dia Kisan Sabha, a na­tional farmer wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tion.

As cli­mate change brings wilder weather and more losses in the or­chards, “the earn­ings of farm­ers, whose liveli­hood is de­pen­dent on (fruit), will come down dras­ti­cally”, he warned in an in­ter­view with the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

In Kash­mir, the 40 harsh­est days of win­ter, called “Chillai Kalan”, usu­ally be­gin on De­cem­ber 21 and last un­til the end of Jan­uary.

But last win­ter the re­gion saw no snow at all un­til the sec­ond week of Fe­bru­ary.

Tourists in high-alti­tude ar­eas were then de­lighted to see snow in May.

But the un­ex­pected weather brought huge prob­lems for pas­toral­ist fam­i­lies on their an­nual mi­gra­tion routes.

Mo­hamed Razak, 50, was herd­ing his flock in re­mote Poonch district when un­usual tor­ren­tial rain and hail killed more than 100 of his goats and sheep.

“Be­fore we could un­der­stand any­thing, a thun­der­storm and hail fol­lowed rains.

In the ab­sence of any shel­ter, goats and sheep rushed to­wards a gully...

and got washed away,” Razak said in an in­ter­view.

The herder re­ceived about $500 in fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion un­der the State Dis­as­ter Re­spond Fund but said it was not ad­e­quate to meet his losses, which were about dou­ble what he re­ceived.

In the same storm, Mo­hamed Fa­rooq, 45, an­other pas­toral­ist, lost over 150 cat­tle in a land­slide in Bafliaz, with his fam­ily only nar­rowly es­cap­ing.

So­cial me­dia users in Jammu and Kash­mir cir­cu­lated pic­tures of his dead live­stock and pub­lished his bank de­tails, ask­ing for fi­nan­cial help for the fam­ily.

To help fruit grow­ers hit by un­sea­son­able snow, Sher-e-Kash­mir Univer­sity of Agri­cul­tural Sciences and Tech­nol­ogy has is­sued ad­vice on how farm­ers can pro­tect trees from dam­age.

The state’s hor­ti­cul­ture de­part­ment has up­loaded videos on its web­site show­ing grow­ers how to drill into bro­ken tree trunks and try to re­join them with large screws.

Dhawale, of the farmer wel­fare group, said Prad­han Mantri Fasal Bima Yo­jana — a crop in­sur­ance scheme put in place by In­dia’s prime min­is­ter in 2016 — has so far not pro­vided much help with wors­en­ing crop losses in Kash­mir from wilder weather.

Many farm­ers re­main un­aware that help is avail­able from the pro­gramme, ac­cord­ing to an Au­gust sur­vey by Weather Risk Man­age­ment Ser­vices Pvt Ltd, a global provider of cli­mate risk man­age­ment ser­vices.

Dhawale said that “only a holis­tic ap­proach” that com­bined com­pen­sa­tion, ef­forts to re­duce farmer debt and help putting in place pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties to boost in­comes would help farm­ers deal with the grow­ing pres­sures.

The Kash­mir Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, mean­while, has asked the state gov­ern­ment to speed ap­proval of a re­struc­tured state in­sur­ance pro­gramme aimed at help­ing strug­gling ap­ple and saf­fron farm­ers.

For now, wide­spread dam­age to trees and the ap­ple har­vest mean ap­ple prices have jumped over 20% across the coun­try since the dis­as­ter, as Jammu and Kash­mir state pro­duces nearly 80% of In­dia’s ap­ples.

Kash­mir’s chang­ing weather pat­terns mean the re­gion now gets more of its snow at the end of Fe­bru­ary and in early March, said Shakil Ah­mad Romshoo, head of earth sciences at the Univer­sity of Kash­mir.

That has been good news for au­tumn-har­vested crops — in­clud­ing rice and maize — which saw a 10% larger har­vest this year, said Chowd­hary Mo­hamed Iqbal, a di­rec­tor of the state agri­cul­ture de­part­ment.

But the late snow is hurt­ing the re­gion’s cherry har­vest, Romshoo said, as “the val­ley re­ceives de­layed snow­fall when the trees are in full bloom”. Other changes also are un­der­way as Kash­mir — like other high-alti­tude Hi­malayan re­gions — records in­creases in its min­i­mum, max­i­mum and av­er­age tem­per­a­tures.

Over­all much less snow and more rain is fall­ing, Romshoo said, and “ear­lier peo­ple wouldn’t use fans in the re­gion dur­ing sum­mer but now peo­ple use air con­di­tion­ers here”.

For­est fires also are be­com­ing a wors­en­ing prob­lem, he said.

“The in­ci­dents of for­est fires, which were ear­lier unimag­in­able dur­ing win­ters, are now be­ing re­ported fre­quently due to de­layed snow­fall or dry win­ters,” he said.

“Such in­di­ca­tors of the cli­mate change are very dis­turb­ing,” he added.

Omar Ab­dul­lah, the for­mer chief min­is­ter of Jammu and Kash­mir, last month shared a vi­ral video clip on Twit­ter of a heart­bro­ken ap­ple grower fran­ti­cally try­ing to save his har­vested crop, buried un­der heavy snow in south Kash­mir. Ab­dul­lah called the dis­as­ter “tragic”. “This man’s spir­its are com­pletely crushed .... It’s no won­der he’s weep­ing the way he is,” he re­marked. - Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion

Kash­miri boat­men ex­tract sand from the Jhelum river on a cold and foggy day in Sri­na­gar yes­ter­day.

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