In Kashmir, untimely snowfall devastates apple growers

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As the snowfall arrived early in parts of Kashmir valley on Saturday, dozens of villages and towns witnessed scenes of mourning with the snow and rain damaging the orchards.

In Vehil village of south Kashmir’s Shopian district, at least 54 kilometres from the city, farmers were trying to pick up the apples in spite of the heavy snow and rain, which continued since late last night.

Local residents, whose orchards were filled with apples, had left their homes early in the morning straightaway to measure the amount of damage that their trees had suffered.

“It was snowing but I could see people coming out barefoot. How will it not break someone’s heart, you tell me,” said Aejaz Ahmad Rather, 45.

The orchards have suffered extensive damage caused to apple trees due to the heavy snow that accumulated on leaves and branches.

According to the official figures, Kashmir exports around 20 lakh metric tons of apples every year, and the horticulture industry is pegged to be worth around 8000 to 9000 crore including the employment it generates. Kashmir produces 75% of the total apple production but this year, the growers are in a complete dilemma as to what will happen to their hard work.

The Kashmir Walla received several reports from different areas of south Kashmir that a lot of people have suffered huge damages especially in the Shopian area where almost every household has an orchard.

Yesterday morning, Aejaz said that their family of five went to their orchards and started picking the apples. By the late evening, the family had filled almost 300 boxes of apples. But the pile of apples lay there. They still had a long way to go – almost 2000 boxes of apples were still lying on the trees.

He said that people didn’t even put their apples in the boxes. They directly picked them and put them on tarpaulin sheets. Till late, people put on the lights and were trying to pick up as many boxes as they could.

On Friday late evening, Aejaz’s family had decided to go home and return the next day early in the morning. At around 9 pm, the family had finished their food when the weather started changing. It started to rain and the wind was blowing heavily. Almost everyone from each house came out – to check their orchards. So did, Aejaz.

“It was raining but no one cared about anything. We all went to our respective orchards and did whatever little we could,” he said.

People stayed in their orchards till late, trying to figure out the best way to protect their produce.

After Aejaz returned home, the night became even longer. “ I was waiting for the night to end. No one can understand the feeling of a grower at such a crucial time. I had no peace in my heart,” he further said. “This is our everything. But look at the situation, we have lost everything despite working hard for the whole year.”

Several people took to social media and expressed their grief. Pictures of the orchards from Shopian full of snow and people picking up the apples in the snow were posted by many netizens.

A lawyer and a resident of Shopian, Habeel Iqbal posted a picture of a tree laden with snow and apples with the caption: “Early Snowfall is proving devastating for the people of Shopian. Heart wrenching to see a year’s hard work being washed away. Snow is destroying the apples as well as the apple trees.”

In Shopian’s Pinjoora village, Jehangir Khan, who has 25 kanals of orchards, has almost 1200 boxes of apples still on the trees which amounts to around 12 lakh rupees.

Khan said that more importantly it is the loss in future as branches of the trees are torn, which further damages trees.

Earlier, a government advisory was issued for the farmers and growers that they should harvest their produce as soon as possible. However, Khan complained that the shortage of the laborers added to the misery.

“I can hear the sounds of the branches breaking and I can’t tell you what I am feeling. It is devastating,” said Khan, adding that right now the worst thing is that people are helpless, not knowing what to do.

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