Nestled in the tranquil environs of Nigeen Lake Srinagar, a few square feet of Murtaza Ahmad’s home-garden boasts the unexpected presence of orange trees. Its evergreen foliage, glossy and dark green creates a refreshing contrast against the bright blue sky. Nearly five years ago, Murtaza embarked on the journey of cultivating these trees, nurturing them with care and patience as they took root in this unlikely setting. It’s not just him; many of his neighbours have also started experimenting with citric fruits. While they look at these trees as personal triumphs, in reality, they hold a tale of nature’s response to a changing world.
Within the realm of Kashmir valley, where vibrant fields of apple, saffron and paddy paint the landscape with their abundance, an ominous shift is taking place. The sun’s fiery caress, extending its hot fingers across the valley, carries a subtle message—a message of change, of uncertainty, and of a world grappling with the ravages of climate change. This year, Srinagar, the main city of Kashmir, recorded hottest June day after 18 years at 35.0 degree Celsius.
Over the past century, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has experienced a temperature rise surpassing the global average. While the world’s temperature has increased by around 0.8 to 0.9 degrees Celsius, the Kashmir has witnessed a more pronounced rise of 1.2 degrees Celsius.
The Jammu and Kashmir State Action Plan on Climate Change, a comprehensive report compiled by the Climate Change Cell of the state government, underscores the urgency of the situation. The report emphasises that Kashmir is on a trajectory toward an exceptional climatic scenario characterised by a consistent rise in overall temperatures.
Experts say that as the temperatures continue to increase, the implications for various sectors of Kashmir could be far-reaching. “Rising temperatures are speculated to affect all the water dependent sectors, be it agriculture, horticulture, hydropower production or tourism. Furthermore, it can also increase the incidence of cryosphere-related disasters like the thawing of frozen landscapes translating into landslides/ mudflows, glacial lake outburst floods, rock-ice avalanches etc.,” Dr. Irfan Rashid, senior Assistant Professor, Department of Geo informatics, University of Kashmir, told Kashmir Observer.
Seasons in Flux
Farmers in Kashmir valley had always relied on the predictable rhythm of the seasons, the gentle touch of the monsoon rains, and the perfect balance of sunlight and warmth to bring forth bountiful harvests. But now, the delicate equilibrium of nature is teetering on the edge. The rising temperatures have become merciless, searing the once-fertile lands and causing crops to wither under the unrelenting heat.
“The surging temperatures would affect the soil water content which has direct implications for crop production. Additionally, it might cause pest outbreaks in agricultural fields and also reduce the shelf life of crops,” Dr. Irfan said.
Dr. Irfan went on to emphasise that water scarcity presents another critical issue affecting agricultural productivity. “While Kashmir experienced limited snowfall during the winter, early spring conditions were relatively better. However, the elevated temperatures this year have accelerated the melting of snow across the landscapes. Any instances of water scarcity could adversely affect the availability of irrigation resources for agricultural fields, consequently leading to a decline in crop production,” he cautioned.
According to a research titled “Climate Change and its Effects on Horticulture and Agriculture Crops in Jammu and Kashmir” published in JK Policy Institute, the high temperature in Kashmir region and the mid-temperature in Jammu have affected the horticulture crops. “J&K horticulture production has been facing the brunt of climate change. Its effect can be seen in the decrease in crop production, quality of specific crops, and their market in recent years. Walnut, saffron, and apple are some of the horticulture crops in the Kashmir valley that have declined rapidly due to change in climate, imports of a cheaper variety of crops, and poor irrigation,” the paper reads. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also states that no other sector is more sensitive to climate change than agriculture.
Muhammad Ashraf Lone, a seasoned fruit-grower from South Kashmir, who has devoted a lifetime to apple growing, expressed that the dramatically changing climate over the years pose unprecedented challenges for fruit cultivation. Despite years of knowledge and expertise, he said that they find themselves navigating unfamiliar territory due to the changing weather conditions impacting their beloved apple orchards.
“Rising temperatures have affected the timing of various agricultural activities,” Lone said, adding that spring arrives earlier, causing plants to bud and bloom sooner. “This shift in the timing of growing seasons can disrupt the overall natural balance of plant growth.”
Spurring Novel Cultivations
In the days of yore, who would have imagined that tropical fruits like lemon and oranges would find a home in the lush Kashmir valley? Yet, unexpectedly, the changing climate patterns have granted the zestful fruits a new territory to flourish. While the ability to grow lemon in a region known for its cooler climate might be due to advancements in agricultural practices and the use of protected cultivation methods, it can also be attributed, at least in part, to the effects of global warming.
Various studies also suggest that increasing temperatures could enable the cultivation of crops previously unsuited to cold regions, while traditional cold-adapted crops might struggle in less suitable climates. Certain plant varieties accustomed to warmer tropical conditions or extended growing seasons are now thriving in areas with more favourable temperatures. For instance, Kashmir that was historically too chilly for certain crops, like lemon or other tropical fruits, might now be able to support their growth due to the warmer temperatures.
However, Dr. Tariq Rasool, Senior Scientist and Assistant Professor of Plant Pathology at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-K), pointed out that while certain individuals or small-scale gardens might endeavour to cultivate these fruits, achieving significant commercial success has proven to be a challenge.
“Some gardening enthusiasts may attempt to grow tropical fruit trees on a smaller scale, such as in home gardens or protected environments like playhouses, but despite these minor successes the survival and successful fruiting of these trees on a larger scale in Kashmir remain limited,” Dr. Tariq told Kashmir Observer. It is true that global warming and climate change have contributed to shifts in weather patterns, but “it is important to consider other factors as well,” he added.
Pest and disease pressure
“Insects are heat loving creatures,” Dr. Tariq said while explaining that the abnormal temperature patterns create a more favourable environment for pathogens, pests, and diseases that affect apple trees.
According to the horticulture expert, the increasing temperatures have amplified the need to use insecticides in apple orchards. “In the past, within certain high-altitude regions of Kashmir, farmers typically employed just one or two types of insecticides annually due to the cooler climate. However, upward temperature trend has compelled them to increase the frequency of spray applications, owing to the significant risk posed by pests and diseases in the orchards,” the expert explained.
Floriculture is also facing the heat
The once chilly winters, adorned with blankets of snow, are yielding to milder temperatures and longer, temperate days. As a result, not only fruit production, climate warming has also led to changes in the timing and patterns of flowering for various plant species in the region. Locals also said that over the years an unusual phenomenon has been observed as many flowers are wilting and withering earlier than usual.
A study conducted by the Department of Botany, University of Kashmir has reported the shifts in spring flowering phenology of model plant species, Sternbergia vernalis – commonly known as Gul-e-toor in Kashmir. It unveiled that these flowers are flowering a month earlier, in response to the changing climate in Kashmir Himalayas.
Another study by the same department also observed a phenological shift, which refers to the stages of events in a plant’s life cycle, in selected plant species under experimental warming. As the temperature increased, the time during which flowers bloomed became shorter.
“Plants are highly sensitive to environmental changes including temperature. And the withering of flowers can’t be ruled out given the prevalent heat wave that Kashmir is experiencing,” Dr Irfan said.
- With rising temperatures, the zones where certain crops can be successfully grown may be shifting. This requires horticulturists and floriculturists to adapt by selecting different plant varieties or changing their planting schedules.
- Sudden temperature fluctuations, unexpected frost, prolonged periods of drought, or excessive rainfall now negatively impact crop yields and quality. Unseasonably warm winters have led to premature bud break, making plants vulnerable to late spring frosts, which damage flowers and fruit crops.
- Unpredictable weather patterns disrupt temperature and day length necessary for flowers to bloom in specific environmental conditions.
- Unpredictable rainfall patterns necessitates new irrigation systems and water management practices to ensure plant survival and optimal growth.
- Unpredictable weather patterns now lead to increased resource management challenges. There is need for change in heating and cooling systems to maintain optimal growing conditions.
- The economic consequences of unpredictable weather patterns can be significant. Crop losses, increased production costs, and market fluctuations can threaten the livelihoods of horticulturists and floriculturists.
- To mitigate the effects of unpredictable weather patterns on horticulture and floriculture, growers need to employ strategies such as crop diversification, improved irrigation systems, the use of weather forecasts and climate data, and the development of more resilient plant varieties.
- Government policies and international agreements aimed at addressing climate change can also play a role in helping these industries adapt to changing environmental conditions.
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