SRINAGAR, June 23: Continuous rain and unexpectedly low temperatures in the Valley for the last two months are likely to affect its fruit production this year. According to fruit growers, incessant rainfall has caused heavy damage to the horticulture industry, with the state reporting about 60-70 per cent crop loss till now.
“We were expecting a bumper yield this year. But the rains and hailstorms have damaged a major portion of the yield,” says Ubaid Javid Malik, an apple grower from South Kashmir’s Shopian region — known for its delicious and juicy apples.
Horticulture is considered Kashmir’s mainstay industry after tourism, with over a million families directly associated with it. The industry generates about Rs 2,500 crore to 3,000 crore annually, and most of it comes from the export of apples. Different fruit crops are cultivated on 3.15 lakh hectares of land, with 1.76 lakh hectares under apple cultivation alone.
Five crore apple boxes are exported from Kashmir to international and domestic fruit markets annually. Kashmir’s apple and pear varieties are considered best in the world. Of late, growers from Kashmir have started dispatching their products to the Gulf, South Asia and some European countries. While the fruit production in the Valley is around 15 to 17 lakh metric tonnes annually, the growers say Kashmir has a capability to produce 25-30 lakh MT every year.
Though apple is the major fruit grown in Kashmir, especially in Sopore in north and Shopian in the south, other fruits like cherry, peach, apricots and pears are also grown on a large scale.
The unexpectedly wet and cold climate has already affected the yield of stone fruits (like cherry and apricot that have a fleshy outer surrounding a hard shell with a seed inside), while the production of apples and pears is also likely to take a hit. “The stone fruits have been affected severely this year, especially in the hilly areas,” says Kashmir’s Deputy Director, Horticulture, Akhter Hussain. “We had better flowering this year and were expecting a good yield. But unfortunately, the sudden climate variation has affected the crop, mostly stone fruits,” he adds.
The rain and hailstorm — some parts of the Valley even received snowfall recently — lashed the state throughout April and May, with temperatures being recorded five degrees below normal. “Many places like Budgam, Kulgam, Shopian, Handwara, Kupwara, Baramulla received untimely snowfall, which damaged the fruits. The snowfall in higher reaches led to increase in cold, which is harmful for the fruits,” says Bashir Ahmad, a fruit grower from north Kashmir.
The fruit growers have another major worry. The incessant rains and cold are likely to breed diseases that will further affect the crop. “These rains can cause diseases like scab in the fruits. This will also delay the ripening, cause their premature falling and will result in fruits of small size,” says Dr Imtiyaz Lone, assistant professor at the Sher-e- Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST).
Kashmir Fruit Growers and Dealers Association chairman Ghulam Rasool Wagay says: “Apple varieties like ‘Delicious’ and ‘American’, besides pear and cherries, have been badly damaged. They cannot be sent to the market.” The growers are demanding compensation from the government for the losses. “Our 70 per cent crop has been damaged. The government must intervene and provide us compensation for the damages. Otherwise, this industry will face a setback from which it will be difficult to recover,” says Mushtaq Ahmad, a fruit grower from Shopian.
Deputy Director Hussain says the horticulture department is conducting the assessment of the damage and they will submit the report to government. “It is up to the government to decide the extent of compensation to the growers. Once the final report is submitted, the farmers will be paid compensations through revenue department as per the damages,” he says.
(The author is a trainee with The Indian Express)