‘We’re Heartbroken’: Snow-Buried Apple Orchards Numb Kashmiri Growers

An apple grower's torment. KO Photos by Abid Bhat

On the heels of a weather advisory, the untimely snowfall has ruined the apple orchards of Kashmir leaving the growers in a grieving state of mind.

ARSHAD Ahmad along with his two brothers was on his toes before autumn once again ended prematurely in Kashmir.

The untimely snowfall as warned by Kashmir’s Horticulture Department broke the brothers into tears. Hours before the calamity, they were frantically pruning branches of their apple orchard.

But despite the advisory asking growers to speed up harvesting, Arshad said it was an uphill task in the face of the recent non-local workforce departure from Kashmir.

The apprehensions of a large-scale damage to the crop and trees came true on Saturday when the snow and rain lashed parts of Kashmir including South Kashmir’s Shopian where Arshad lives.

“We are heartbroken,” Arshad told Kashmir Observer. “This untimely snowfall has devoured our harvest once again.”

On October 23, Kashmir’s higher reaches received fresh snowfall while rains lashed plains — bringing the temperature further down in the valley.

An official in the Meteorological Department informed that there’s a possibility of more rains and snow till Sunday.

Behind the downpour, the MeT official said, is the western disturbance.

“The weather conditions would start gradually improving from the afternoon of October 24 and the dry weather is expected to continue till November 02, 2021,” the weatherman said.

In a last-ditch attempt to save his fruit-laden orchard from bad weather, Arshad had gathered over half a dozen people including his relatives and friends to harvest the crop. But the untimely snowfall spoiled all his efforts.

“The problem was that over 60 percent of the apple crop was still green,” Arshad said. “It would at least need 20 more days for a full bloom.”

Like last year, the early winter in Kashmir has once  again disrupted the gains of horticulture — the biggest industry in Kashmir and the backbone of the J&K economy. Nearly 22 lakh metric tonnes of apples are exported from the valley annually.

However, the people part of the industry got alarmed on October 19, when Kashmir’s Horticulture Department asked the apple growers to speed up apple harvest.

The advisory came in the backdrop of the India Meteorological Development (IMD)’s warning saying that a fresh western disturbance approaching the region could result in heavy snowfall and rains from Friday.

The IMD warned that heavy snowfall could lead to damage to the apple orchards and temporary disruption of traffic along major highways in hilly areas.

Advising that the apple growers should prune trees and ensure proper drainage in their orchards, Ajaz A. Bhat, Director Horticulture, Kashmir, said, “People should not panic but start working to save their orchards and crops.”

But even as the advisory was shot hours before the snowfall, the Kashmiri orchardists termed it “senseless and absurd”. They argued that it was impossible to complete the harvest within a few days.

“How was it possible to go for pruning with over 50 percent of crop still on trees?” Arshad said.

Apart from pruning, the Horticulture Department had requested apple growers to spray urea fertilizers on apple trees as a damage-control method.

Mobilised by the advisory, the growers were on the desperate job before they woke up to the ‘chilling scenes’ on Saturday.

As the pictures and videos of damaged apples and trees went viral on social media, it once again made people lament over the lost harvesting season in the valley. Among the worst sufferers were the orchardists from Apple Town, Shopian.

Reports reaching Kashmir Observer said that orchards in Herpora, Sedow Chekh, Kellar, Resh Nagri, Imam Sahib and other adjacent hamlets have suffered losses in the snowfall.

In these southern parts of Kashmir, the heavy snow damaged the branches, and even uprooted trees in some areas. Many growers were either seen clearing snow from their apple trees or praying for the calamity to end.

“We would harvest apples till the 15th of November when the crop would be in full bloom,” Mushtaq Malik, who owns over 40 kanals of apple orchard in Shopian, told Kashmir Observer.

“Unfortunately, this untimely snow has come as a disaster for us.”

Malik, who is also president of Shopian Fruit Association, said that before the snow calamity, the growers were pleased with the ‘fruitful season’ this year.

“Even the fruit decay was very less, but this snow caused massive damage at the last moment,” Malik rued.

Keeping the losses incurred upon the orchardists due to untimely snow in view, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCC&I) has urged the administration for the early assessment and compensation.

“As the inclement weather came much earlier than usual, many of the orchardists were still busy with harvesting and had not done trimming of the trees due to which a lot of trees have got damaged. This has plunged the stakeholders into despair and gloom,” the KCC&I said.

In a letter addressed to LG Manoj Sinha, Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Association, has also expressed their anxiety over the untimely heavy snow.

“50 percent of ‘A grade’ Delicious type crop was still being harvested especially in Shopian and Kulgam and 30 percent in Central and North,” the association said.

“The trees were laden with ripe fruit and the stakeholders whose livelihoods are associated with the industry were expecting good returns. However, due to damage, the hopes have been dashed to ground. This is one of the worst experiences of the horticulture sector which pumps the GDP of Kashmir.”

In the view of the damage, Advisor to Lieutenant Governor, Farooq Khan has directed Director General Horticulture to personally supervise the assessment process vis-à-vis loss to orchards and fruit in South Kashmir.

“Advisor Farooq Khan has also asked the Principal Secretary Horticulture department to monitor the exercise regularly and all the possible support be provided to orchardists,” an official said.

While the officials have admitted that most apple orchards have suffered damage due to the bad weather, the growers fear heavy damage if snowfall continues.

“We’re praying that this snow calamity should end now,” Arshad said. “If it continues like this, then we are doomed.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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