Our Beloved Apple Orchards

  • Muneeb Yousuf / Shahbaz Sidiquee
  • Publish Date: Nov 11 2018 8:13PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Nov 12 2018 2:51AM
Our Beloved Apple OrchardsPhoto: Kashmir Ink

On Saturday last week, the plains of the Valley received season’s first snowfall. People were eagerly waiting for some precipitation to occur––– that would end the much ‘annoying dry spell’. In this scenario, couple of inches of snow was presumed to be Almighty’s blessing. People were delighted on seeing tiny white colored snowflakes that take several swirlings in the air before it covers the ground. For many, fascination grew to the extent that they took on to social networking sites to share their joyful moments. As the snowfall continued, a wave of fear gripped owners of apple orchards and their families. 

For owners of apple orchards, the fruit bearing trees are akin to children whom they cater and nourish. They in return provide them the necessary economic means by which they are able to meet the demands of their families. With snowfall showing no signs of abatement and a dark night to arrive, people associated with fruit orchards became more concerned. What could families associated with apple orchards do at this juncture? With nature on its fury, several people decided to visit their orchards. “It was dark night and I carried a solar lamp to visit my orchard that lie just few feet away from my home,” said Mohammad Aqib of Kulgam. As Aqib entered into his orchard, he saw branches loaded with snow tilted towards the ground. “With each snowflake accumulating over the tender branches, I heard a distinctive sound as if a door was slowly opening suggesting me that the branches are about to collapse,” remarked Aqib with laying emphasis on collapse. For Arshid Ahmed Dar of Bogund Kulgam, this snowfall was more of a curse that profoundly damaged his apple orchard. Around fifty trees have developed major cracks in their stems along with several trees suffered broken branches. “I felt as if everything has ended for us,” mentioned Arshid. 

Generally, by mid-November, apple trees shed their leaves and in the aftermath of it experts are employed to do the much necessary task of pruning. This is followed by digging around the trunks of fruit trees and feeding them with energy rich fertilizers and compost. However, this time the whole cycle got interrupted. With leaves still intact, every snowflake began to accumulate and put weight on the branches––thus severely damaging them. “Though I made an attempt to push the accumulated snow from the branches, it wasn’t coming down,” said Ghulam Nabi Itoo of Tolinowpora Kulgam, whose apple orchard looks to be axed by some devil woodcutter.  “I felt as if snow had the adhesive characteristic and the safety of fruit trees didn’t let me sleep at all,” said Ittoo in a choking voice. Given to current circumstances and considerable distance of many fruit orchards, several families failed to visit their orchards in the night that witnessed massive damage to their fruit plants. “The situation demanded large manpower that would swiftly unload the accumulated snow from the trees and the logic is––where on the earth could we arrange such human power that too at this critical point of time?’’ said Mohammad Ramzan while picking up the broken branches.

The Meteorological Department had earlier predicted of rains in the plains and light snowfall in the upper reaches. In connection to this prediction, there was no fear among the orchardists. As the mercury plunged after hours of rain, the plains began to receive snowfall in the afternoon of Saturday. “Even then we didn’t worry, we thought it would stop soon, but it kept going,” said Muzaffar Ahmad Lone of Chak Kulgam. A clear gloom reflects among the affected families with several women having wept loudly on seeing the state of damage to their fruit orchards. From uprooted apple trees to broken branches, one sees a near catastrophe caused by snow fury across the length and breadth of fruit orchards. 

The early snowfall has wreaked havoc in the Shopian district. Nearly 50 percent of apple orchards have been severely damaged. “The snow not only damaged the fruit trees but also ruined the harvested fruits that were lying on the ground under the open skies,” said Waseem Ahmed of Chitterwachi Shopian. “We have been devastated by this untimely snow, we never thought it will snow like this,” said Waseem Ahmed. The orchards of Yaripora have also been severely damaged by the untimely snow. In Harmain Yaripora, the apple orchard of Jahangir Ahmed is worst hit. Nearly 110 apple trees have been entirely damaged and all need to be replaced by new ones. “I have never seen this kind of disaster,” said 60-year-old Muzaffar Ahmed Lone of Chak Yaripora. “It used to snow in the last week of November and in my entire life I have never seen snowfall ahead of pruning exercise,” said Lone. For Gulzar Ahmed Bhat of Khanpora Yaripora this snowfall has snatched from him a better future “It takes 20 years to grow a fruit yielding apple plant and this snow mercilessly in a flash of time took away our years of toil and hard work,” said Bhat while looking towards uprooted apple trees. 

The horticulture sector is regarded as the backbone of Jammu and Kashmir economy. It significantly contributes to Gross State Domestic Production (GSDP). Around 7 lakh families comprising about 33 lakh people are directly and indirectly associated with the fruit industry in Jammu and Kashmir.  The Horticulture industry witnessed 36 percent growth in last decade in terms of production. As per economic survey report 2017, the production of fruits has increased from 16.36 lakh metric tonnes in 2007-2008 to 22.35 lakh metric tonnes in 2015-16. Thus an increase of 5.99 lakh metric tonnes. According to All Valley Fruit Growers Association Chairman Bashir Ahmed Bhat, there is an estimated loss of around Rs 1,000 crore. The Horticulture department puts the estimated cost around Rs 500 crores. Instead of visiting the damaged orchards and making a proper assessment based on the damage caused, Horticulture department seems to give non-credential and unauthentic figures inside their cozy offices. The boom that the horticulture sector witnessed over last decade seems to face major losses in the upcoming years. The damage done to fruit orchards by the untimely snow will reduce significant apple production.  


Cold Response from Government

The affected orchardists demand employees associated with department of horticulture to visit their damaged orchards and record the damage caused by the snow fury. The orchardists of Yaripora, Kulgam and Shopian denied of any horticulture officer visiting them. “No one visited us, they all give rhetoric reports from Governor to officers of concerned department,” said Gulzar Ahmed Bhat of Yaripora. Bhat like thousands of apple growers in valley has been profoundly affected by untimely snowfall and expect government to do some justice to them. Advance payment from the commission agents also buried down the future plans of several orchard owners. “Every year we invest huge money for pesticides and fertilizers to increase our production, but this season has proven to be a nightmare for us,” said Mansoor Ahmed Baba of Parigam. 


Do Fruit Growers Need Insurance Schemes?

Insurance penetration in the context of Indian economy as a whole is low and our state is no exception. The union and state governments from time to time launched various schemes to protect the income of farmers which are otherwise very vulnerable to unforeseen events. There were too many schemes but too little benefits to the farmers. The Modi government criticized the policies of previous governments and launched a new scheme namely Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima  Yojana (PMFBY) subsuming all existing insurance schemes of the agricultural sector. The scheme was good from previous schemes as it covered both pre and post-harvest loss and using technology for the monitoring and implementation of the same. The scheme unfortunately is yet to see the light of dawn in the valley as the insurance companies were demanding higher premium. The end result is it was not implemented in valley.