The homegrown apple is becoming a rare species India, as farmers have lost up to half their harvest this year, with predictions that the country’s main orchards could soon be all but wiped out.
Early snowfalls in Kashmir, were almost 80% of India’s apples are grown, have seen the region’s farmers lose half their crops in the third year of disastrous harvests.
Officials are trying to calculate the loss to the apple industry, which contributes almost a third – 50bn rupees (£500m) – to the local economy annually. The apples are sold at fruit markets in India, while some are exported.
Researchers warnedAs the climate crisis impacts production, orchards in Kashmir’s Kashmir valley, which is surrounded by the Greater Himalayas, and the Pir Panjal mountain ranges, will likely become unsustainable over the next few years.
The region has seen gradual changes in weather patterns over the past 20 years, which have been more pronounced in the last five years. This is the third year harvests were affected by heavy and early snowfalls in the region. Kashmir valley.
According to Kashmir’s department of horticulture, 5bn rupees were lost from harvests in 2018. This figure rose to 22.5bn Rupees in 2019, when Kashmir experienced the most severe snowfall in 60 years.
“In the light of the changing climate, apple harvesting is not sustainable [here],” said Dr Irfan Rashid, assistant professor at the University of Kashmir.
“Usually, Kashmir receives the snowfall after 15 December, but over the last two decades, we are experiencing early snowfalls. November is the harvest season for many apple varieties. In the last five years, we have had three erratic snowfalls and in the future the situation may exacerbate.”
He added: “Climate models forecast a very grim scenario as far as erratic weather is concerned. As we move through the century, extreme events will be more frequent in the Himalayas, which include this region. It is very normal that Kashmir will be witnessing extreme weather events.”
In response to the crisis, officials at Kashmir’s department of horticulture have been encouraging farmers to plant new “high-density” imported varieties, which are harvested earlier than existing crops. The government is encouraging subsidy schemes to assist farmers in buying and marketing new varieties and wants more land for cultivation.
Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, director general of the horticultural department, said: “We cannot stop what is coming. The only way out we have is conversion to high-density varieties.”
This year’s research was published suggestedNew varieties could yield significant economic returns, which could outweigh the initial high cost.
Rashid stated that while the government strategy might help to mitigate the effects of erratic precipitation, it would also result in the loss local varieties.
“Already, the local varieties like ambri are shrinking,” he said.
Farmers have been reluctant adopting new varieties, pointing out that disappointing results from pilot projects.
“Shifting to high-density varieties is not easy for us,” said Nawaz Ahmad Thoker, a farmer from Ramnagri, a sleepy village surrounded by orchards in Jammu and Kashmir state. “We will have to uproot the existing orchard and then plant the new saplings, which will incur us huge costs.”
Thoker, whose extended family has cared for their seven-acre (2.8 hectare) orchard over 35 years, collapsed after he looked at the damage to his crops following heavy snowfall at end of October. Half the trees had their trunks cut off and the remaining branches, with their fruit attached, were buried under six inches.
He estimated he had lost 100,000 rupees (£1,000), which will mean a difficult year for him and his family, as he struggles to pay for his children’s school and parents’ healthcare.
“It was not only the year’s harvest lost in front of my eyes, but the three-decades of hard work by me and my family, destroyed,” he said.
In 2018, and 2019, about 70% of his apple tree trees were damaged by the snow.
“I am thinking of doing some other work, maybe start a business so that my children have a good future,” said Thoker. “It seems our next generation will not be able to see these apple orchards.”