Snowfall in Kashmir damages apple orchards

Snowfall in Kashmir damages apple orchards
Kashmir's biggest economy — Rs8,000 crore apple industry — received a major jolt, as first snowfall of the season ravaged the apple orchards across the Valley.

Preliminary reports suggest that the orchards have received "heavy to huge damages" as foliage-laden trees got uprooted or cracked under the weight of 3 to 5-feet snow.

"As per initial reports, apple orchards suffered 30 to 35 per cent damage. Final figures will be available only when officials of our department and the revenue department will visit the orchards," said Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, director, horticulture, Kashmir.

Huge damage to the orchards had been reported from Baramulla and Shopian districts while Kulgam, Kupwara, and Budgam also suffered heavy damage, Bhat said. "Pruning of apple trees save them from breakage due to snow in winter season. The early snowfall had caused damage because foliage of trees retained snow," he said.

Apple growers with their family members were seen wailing in the orchards, as they failed to protect the trees from uprooting amid continuing snowfall.

"It is a catastrophe. We have not seen devastation of this magnitude in apple orchards earlier," said Javaid Ahmad of north Kashmir's Baramulla district. Ahmad said a majority of the trees in his 60-kanal orchard were uprooted. "I had taken Rs10 lakh loan from an apple trader in New Delhi, for which I have to send him 2,500 apple boxes next year. I don't know how to pay him back now," he said.

The apple growers have been demanding implementation of crop insurance scheme as changing climatic conditions over the years has adversely affected apple production.

However, Bhat said implementation of the scheme got delayed because the insurance companies were demanding a premium, which was neither acceptable to the government nor to the apple growers. "We are working on the crop insurance scheme," he said.

At least 7 lakh families are directly engaged with the apple industry in Kashmir, which annually produces nearly 20 lakh metric tonnes of fresh fruits and 22 lakh metric tonnes of dry fruits.

The industry suffered huge losses this year following the Central government's decision of August 5 to abrogate Article 370, which provided special status to J&K.

An official said magnitude of the damage was too high, which was why, it was not announced publicly, as it could have stirred panic among the apple growers.

At several places, people had not plucked the apples owing to the fear of coming under attack of suspected militants. "I am yet to pluck apples for nearly 300 boxes. Snow played a leveller and we are no more economically rich now," said Ghulam Hassan of south Kashmir's Kulgam district.

Kashmir is facing major economic crisis as shutdown against the abrogation of Article 370 continued for the 95th day. The export of apple has witnessed a nearly 50 per cent dip since August 5.