“Difficult to continue growing apples”: Hailstorm adds to woes of Kashmir’s orchardists

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Recent hailstorm across the Kashmir Valley has damaged its apple crops. Orchards in south Kashmir’s Shopian, Pulwama, and Kulgam districts and central Kashmir’s Srinagar were hit on Wednesday evening, 3 June.

The hailstorm has worried apple growers who are already bearing the brunt of political turmoil. “We use expensive fertilizers for the quality of our fruits to be good for selling and exporting but the recent hailstorms caused scabbing of apples,” said Gowhar Hassan, an apple grower in Shopian.

Apple grower from Srinagar’s Nishat area, Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bhat said that his crops were also damaged due to the hailstorm but the difficulties due to vagaries of the weather and the political situation had badly impacted profits. “We have lost more than we have earned in the last years,” he said.

Since the lockdown in August 5 after the Government of India abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy to the recent lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the hailstorms have added to the pressure on apple growers.

President of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Association (KVFGA), Bashir Ahmad Basheer estimates that about “80 percent of the fruit crops in Kulgam and Shopian are spoilt”. The Kashmir Valley produces 22 lakhs metric ton of apples each year.

Mr. Basheer added that KVFGA has been requesting the government to introduce crop insurance for apple growers but the requests have not materialized so far. “If the government doesn’t provide the fruits growers with crop insurance, the survival of Horticulture business in Kashmir will be very difficult,” he said.

Naik Dawood, an apple grower in Shopian, said that the rates of pesticides abd fertilisers have increased in the last three years while the price fetched by produce has remained similar. “There are [apple growers] who can’t afford costly pesticides to improve quality of fruits and in addition, their fruits get wasted when natural calamities or other crisis happen,” he said.

Apple growers had pinned hopes with this year’s harvest to compensate for previous years losses but in the absence of a contingency plan for apple growers, “it will be really difficult to continue growing apples”, said Mr. Dawood. “We may have to shift their business from fruit growing to something else.”

It takes about 20,000 Rupees to nurture saplings till the time the trees start bearing fruits, said Mr. Hassan. However, “when natural calamities or any other incidents happen, authorities provide a compensation of just 2000 rupees.” Similar thoughts were expressed by other growers.

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