After nine years, Kashmir has witnessed an early snowfall in the month of November. On Saturday, November 3, Kashmir was wrapped in a blanket of snow. The local tourism is expected to be thriving with the rise in the number of visitors to the Valley due to the early snowfall. However, the main source of Kashmir’s economy – saffron and the apple crops – has faced a sizeable loss. It may take the cultivators years to recover from this loss.
The trend of turning the main turfs of paddy field into apple orchards has increased in the last 10 years, in Southern Kashmir, as the orchards require less labour, and yield more income.
Shopian district, which is home to a high number of apple suppliers, selling produce in the rest of the trade markets in and outside India, faced the maximum damage due to the snowfall. Many trees have been uprooted. Trees with cracks in the stumps and broken branches with fruits still dangling on them, can be seen in the orchards in parts of South Kashmir.
Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, an apple cultivator from Haal, Shopian district, who has apple orchards spread on four acres of land, told NewsClick that his main source of income is his orchard.
“An orchard takes more than 20 years to produce good quality and quantity of apple. These have been destroyed now, and there is no hope of recovering soon. May be, my next generation will be able to have a good quality produce now. A tree takes more than six years to bear fruits,” said Dar. “These plants are like our children, we love them; take care of them as our children. Everything is destroyed now.”
Also Read: Early Snowfall Brings Misery to Kashmir's Apple Growers
According to the data available with the government, the yearly production of apple in the state is 17 lakh metric tons. According to the Economic Survey of 2017, apples worth Rs 6,500 crore were exported in the year 2017. In 2018, production was more than usual, and it was expected to go higher. However, early snowfall has ruined most of the produce. Approximately, 50 to 60 per cent tress from every orchard have been damaged. In every orchard at least 50 trees are partially or fully damaged. Approximately 20 per cent of the crop was yet to be harvested.
Earlier this year, on September 17, almost all the apple-rich towns in Kashmir witnessed severe hailstorms which had also damaged at least 20 per cent of the apple crop, rice and other seasonal crops across Kashmir.
“Government promised us that they will give us the relief [fund] for the damage to the crops caused due to the hailstorm, but we haven’t received a penny,” said Dar. “No point in expecting any compensation for this loss as well.”
As per the data recorded by the Horticulture Department, South Kashmir has witnessed 20-25 per cent damage due to the snowfall, whereas North Kashmir has witnessed 10 to 18 per cent damage.
The Srinagar- Jammu highway, the only road connecting Kashmir to the world, has been blocked too, following the heavy snowfall. At least 5,000 trucks carrying apples are stranded on the highway. The cultivators are worried that a huge quantity of apples may rot if the road remains blocked for long. On average, each truck is supposed to be carrying 9 metric tons of apples.
The officials at the Horticulture Department informed Newsclick that before snowfall, 11 lakh metric tons of apples had been exported.
Damage assessment made by Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) says that fruit industry has faced losses amounting to Rs 500 crore due to the early snowfall.
Dar further said that many growers have taken loan from banks. “Due to the loss, it will be hard for the growers to pay the debts. There will be the huge impact on the further production as well,” he said.
On Monday, Satya Pal Malik, governor of Jammu and Kashmir, while speaking to the reporters, said that all the farmers who suffered losses due to the snowfall would be compensated. He also said that an assessment is being made, and that the farmers would be compensated once the report on the losses comes in.
Early snowfall has affected the saffron cultivation as well in Pampore, a town known as Saffron Town of the Valley, located on the outskirts of Srinagar’s Southern part.
Before the snowfall, only 20 per cent of the crop was harvested while 80 per cent of the crop has been covered under the weight of snow. The delicate petals of saffron flowers have been broken which has damaged the flowers permanently.
Ashiq Hussain Bhat, a grower, who hails from Pampore, while speaking to Newsclick, said that the crop has been damaged totally due to the snow. Ashiq has planted the crop over almost more than 5 acres of land.
Saffron flowers need a temperature of 17o C to grow properly, but as per the Meteorology Department, temperature will not cross 15o C degrees in the next six days.
Ashiq further told Newsclick that even if the temperature increases, the flower will not bloom due to the damage to the petals caused already. It will ultimately lead to the decay of the flower, he said.
The saffron cultivators are already facing decline in the production due to the pollution and soil erosion in the area.
Ashiq said that governor has announced the compensation of Rs 30,000 to each farmer. But, the amount of the compensation is far less than the losses incurred due to damage.
“For a few acres of land the labour charge is more than Rs 2 Lakh,” said Hussain. “The amount is yet to be received by the farmers for the compensation, but it will not be of much help.”
Early snowfall in Jammu and Kashmir, that is, in the autumn season, is an indication of early freezing of glaciers, which in turn implies a longer frosty winter in the Valley.
Pictures :-Kamran Yousuf/News Click