Outbreak of apple scab catches the BJP-led Himachal govt in deep slumber

Though the disease, that has resurfaced in the state after over 37 years, is said to be in the initial stage, it has virtually affected state’s apple economy worth ₹4000 crores this time

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Bipin Bhardwaj

The outbreak of apple scab (a fungal disease) in the apple belt of Himachal Pradesh, has left scores of apple growers in scare and distress. Though the disease, that has resurfaced in the state after over 37 years, is said to be in the initial stage yet it has virtually affected state’s apple economy worth ₹4000 crores this time. The scab, a fungal attack, has been reported in apple orchards in Mandi, Kullu and Shimla districts is expected to spread to other districts with the onset of monsoon.

At present, the worst affected are the orchardists of Mandi, the home district of the state Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, who is touring foreign countries to attract investment in the state while apple farmers of his native place Janjehli and Thunag (in Mandi, the home of CM) are fearing outbreak of an epidemic. The affected apple growers have been accusing the BJP-led state government for being in deep slumber over such a serious issue.

According to reports, the scab attack has been reported in Ani and Dalash areas of Kullu, Janjehli, Thunag and Karsog in Mandi and Narkanda, Rohru, Kharapathar, Kotkhai, Jubbal and Chirgaon in Shimla districts. However, the Kinnaur apple belt is unaffected from this fungal infection as of now.

Himachal Pradesh is one of the country’s major apple producing state and the crop contributes almost 90 per cent of the state’s fruit economy.

With the reports of scab attack, the state horticulture department has swung into action and roped in experts from YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Solan, to monitor the situation. Teams of horticulture experts have been constituted and deployed to educate and assist affected apple farmers, claimed ML Dhiman, Director, Department of Horticulture, Himachal Pradesh.

Experts, however, claimed that the scab attack in a little higher places in the interior areas is due to lack of awareness of the disease and its management among majority of the young farmers. The scab disease is caused by ascomycete fungus (Venturia inaequalis) and soon takes the shape of epidemic if not controlled in time.

Talking to National Herald, Pankaj Negi, a Kotkhai based apple grower, claimed that the disease has resurfaced almost 37 years and affected almost 5 to 10 per cent of the apple crops in Shimla district while the damage is more in Mandi and Kullu districts. “Not only the apple growers but the horticulture department was also unmindful of the outbreak of the apple scab after so many years. In fact, a majority of new and young farmers who are unaware of the type and the seriousness of this disease which had earlier broken out even before their birth, have now started taking preventive measures,” claimed Negi.

Though the government is providing fungicide sprays on subsidised rates yet the disease is likely to turn into an epidemic with the setting in of monsoon in the next couple of days, apprehends Joginder Singh, a progressive apple grower of Chirgaon, and added that higher moisture content in the air will help spread the disease more rapidly.

The epidemic of scab broke out in 1982 when it destroyed almost the entire apple crop in the state. Even the fungicides required to control this disease were not available and by the time the government arranged the sprays, the crop had already been destroyed, claims SP Bhardwaj, a scientist from YS Parmar University.

Experts are of the view that the main reasons for the spread of this disease include heavy vegetative growth inside the canopy of orchards, close plantation, less circulation of air, less availability of sunlight, untimely or no application of recommended fungicides etc.

According to state economic survey, the state witnessed a sharp decline in fruit production in the 2017-2018 financial year as per the report that was tabled by CM Jai Ram Thakur in the state assembly in March 2018. The report showed that in 2017-2018, the fruit production slumped from 6.12 lakh tones in 2016 to 5 lakh tonnes in 2017. As for apples, which constitute 85 per cent of state fruit basket, 4.28 lakh tonnes were produced in 2017 against 4.68 lakh tonnes in 2016.

What is Apple Scab

It is a disease of Malus trees, such as apple trees, caused by the ascomycete fungus (Venturia inaequalis). The disease manifests as dull black or grey-brown lesions on the surface of tree leaves, buds or fruits. Lesions may also appear less frequently on the woody tissues of the tree. Fruits and the undersides of leaves are especially susceptible. The disease rarely kills its host but can significantly reduce fruit yields and fruit quality. Affected fruits are less marketable due to the presence of the black fungal lesions.

Method to control Apple Scab

In affected orchards, new infections can be reduced by removing leaf litter and trimmings and incinerating the infected tissue from the orchard. This will reduce the amount of new ascospores released in the spring. Additionally, scab lesions on woody tissue can be excised from the tree and destroyed. Timely sprays of recommended fungicides on the fruit and trees also help in controlling the disease.

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