Climate Change Hits Apple Growers Hard In Kashmir Valley22 December 2015
Srinagar: Apple orchardist Ghulam Ahmad Hurra stumbles among the leafless trees on his devastated two hectare block of land in the Kashmir Valley of India's northern Jammu and Kashmir state. In the latest indication of climate change, an unprecedented hailstorm coupled with untimely rain has wreaked havoc causing losses of 2 billion rupees (US$30 million) among local apple producers so far this year. 'The trees were flowering and the hailstorm has ruined this year's crop,' Bashir Ahmad, president of the Kashmir fruit growers' association, told ucanews.com. 'If the situation continues, apple production will be greatly affected.' This follows the destruction by flash floods of a major portion of last year's production, which caused losses of over 14.25 billion rupees. Horticulture is the mainstay of the economy in Kashmir with 2.3 million people associated with the sector and 237,000 hectares of land in the valley under fruit cultivation. From 1974 to 2009, areas devoted to apple production rose from 46,190 hectares to 133,2810 hectares. However, unprecedented storms as well as rain and snowfall in the region are now threatening to limit production. Whereas fruit growers reported record apple production of over 2.2 million tons in 2014, floods have restricted this year's crop to 1.3 million tons. Ghulam Ahmad Hurra, a resident of Central Kashmir's Ganderbal area, blames climate change for the losses. 'Apple production may cease if present conditions persist,' he warned. Manzoor Ahmad Dar from South Kashmir's Tral area confirmed that apple production is suffering its worst ever decline. 'I have been in this field for 35 years and I have never witnessed such a situation,' Dar told ucanews.com. A recent study by the University of Agriculture in Kashmir on climate change in the valley revealed that early summer winds were causing great damage to flowering fruit trees. Another study also showed that winter weather patterns have changed significantly, with recent snowfalls of less than one meter compared with more than two meters in previous years. Javaid Ahmad, a young apple grower in central Kashmir's Budgam area, also blamed fickle weather conditions for damaging apple crops. 'I had great hopes from this business as my father used to be an apple grower. I watched him earn a good living but it seems that times have changed,' he told ucanews.com. Another grower, Irfan Yasin who has an orchard in north Kashmir's Sopore area, commonly known as Apple Town, also complained that profits have dried up with hailstorms and late frosts now routine. Fayaz Ahmad Banday, head of the Department of Pomology at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences agreed that climate change in Kashmir has affected fruit production, particularly apples, which comprise over 80 percent of production in the region. 'Stone fruits bloom in the spring. Flowering months are crucial as they determine the formation of seed and fruit quality. As we have experienced precipitation in March, the production of these fruits will decline,' he added. Scientists in Kashmir have proposed that reliable weather forecasting technologies must be developed in order to deal with climate uncertainties. Abdul Rehman Veeri, minister for horticulture in Jammu and Kashmir, told ucanews.com that rehabilitation of orchard owners and fruit growers affected by climate change has now become a humanitarian issue. 'We have submitted an estimated loss report to the federal government so that farmers will be compensated for losses they incurred this year owing to freakish weather and hailstorms,' he stated. Caritas India, which opened an office in Kashmir this year, is also planning to launch an awareness program for fruit growers regarding climate change in the region and the need for precautionary measures. Altaf Lone, an active member of Caritas in Kashmir, said that the program will begin in March next year. 'We have seen much climate change impact in Kashmir. The program aims to assist farmers in creating proper infrastructure facilities so that weather damage to crops can be avoided in future,' he added.