Kashmiri farmers distraught as untimely snowfall wreaks havoc on apple orchards

Already grappling with crises following the abrogation of Article 370, the relatively early snowfall has damaged apple crops, leaving orchardists feeling helpless and hopeless

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

Gulzar Bhat

Abid Rashid got antsy as soon as he read the weather forecast on Wednesday morning in a local newspaper: It predicted moderate to heavy snowfall for the next couple of days. Later in the evening, the sky turned sullen and it started tipping down. A few hours later, milky white snowflakes began to carpet the valley.

Rashid, an orchardist in apple rich Shopian town, could not sleep a wink the whole night. In the morning he, along with his men, made a dash towards his orchard, located a short walk away from his home. Amid heavy snowfall, they frantically started shaking off the snow from the low hanging branches of apple trees to save them from breaking.

Rashid said that despite this effort, around 70 percent of the trees in his orchard, sprawling over 12 kanals of land, got badly damaged. "The damage in the upper belt of districts like Padpawan, Sedow and Heerpora would be nearly 80 percent," Rashid pointed out.

A significant percentage of crop that was yet to be harvested in upper reaches of Kashmir Valley also suffered heavy damages.

The unseasonal late autumn snowfall has spelt doom for the apple orchards across Kashmir. A local weatherman said that while the plains including Srinagar city experienced nearly one feet of snow, the upper reaches witnessed 3 to 4 feet.

"Around 30 percent of the crop in my orchard was still on the trees. I lost it all," said Rayees Ahmad, a resident of Sedow area of Shopian.

The harvesting season in upper reaches of Shopian begins comparatively late compared to other apple rich of areas of valley.

Ghulam Mohammad, a poor farmer of Arhama, a village on the outskirts of the town, said that his orchard suffered 90 percent of damage.

"I had planted the apple trees barely three years ago. They were yet to be in fruit bearing stage. This snowfall devoured them all," Mohammad said, letting out a doleful howl.

In other districts of northern and southern Kashmir, distraught farmers were seen making a beeline for their orchards to brush the snow off the apple trees.

Javed Ahmad Mir, a resident of north Kashmir's Kupwara district, said that since morning, he along with his two brothers were beavering away to clear the snow from the trees. According to Mir, his 10 kanal orchard has suffered more than 70 percent damage.

The picture in the Apple town Sopore is similar. The farmers here pegged the damage at 60 to 70 percent.

Mushtaq Ahmad Qadiri, a local apple grower said that his 11 kanal orchard in Dooru village has suffered more than 60 percent damage.

Qadiri said that the damage in upper reaches like Rafiabad, Dangiwachi and Harwan areas of Baramulla district could be relatively more.

Fayaz Ahmad Malik, president of Sopore Fruit Mandi, said that the apple industry this year was already grappling with the crisis associated with the government crackdown following abrogation of Article 370, and the untimely snowfall had only added more to the woes of farmers.

"Not only the trees but the harvested crop lying in the orchards also suffered damage," he added.

Reports from Anantnag, Kulgam and Pulwama also suggest heavy damages. Farmers from these areas said that the apple orchards in upper reaches suffered nearly 70 to 75 per cent damage.

The fruit growers in valley have suffered heavy losses for the second straight year. In 2018, early snowfall had wreaked a similar havoc with apple orchards in the region.

Director of Horticulture, Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, told National Herald that the damage this year would be more. "We can't say anything for sure as we are still assessing the damage, but we fear heavy losses this time – at least 10 percent more than last year," Bhat said.

Another horticulture official, who did not wish to be named as he is not authorised to speak to media, said that the snowfall caused more damage as the trees had yet to shed the foliage.

"Snowfall at this stage always proves devastating as most of the farmers remain busy in the harvesting and packing process and do not prune their trees," he said.

As the harvesting season took off in valley this year, the apple industry was caught in the throes of crises. Unknown militants plastered some apple rich villages of southern Kashmir with posters, threatening growers not to pluck the fruit. It was followed by attacks on apple traders and truckers.

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