01-Feb-2023  Srinagar booked.net

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‘It’s Like a Death to Us’: Chilling Effect of Untimely Snowfall in Kashmir

With over 50 percent of apple crop still resting on branches, the untimely snowfall has brought winter in fall and froze Kashmir’s apple cart.

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Hours before he could run amok to save his orchard from the snow calamity, Sheikh Farid knew that there was no time to rest.

At the foothills of Pir Panjal strewn with sprawling apple orchards, he could feel the icy breeze numbing the festive spirit of harvesting.

The reaping season would still last over a month, but the weather advisory driven by western disturbance made it a war-footing assignment for his apple community.

Fahid and others worked day and night to pluck apples from the trees until the white-carpeted sorrow shrouded their orchards.

In the morning of October 23, as it snowed in Shopian, this 28-year-old orchardist rushed to his apple garden with a spade in his hand.

“I’m a small apple grower,” Fahid, hailing from Chitargam area of Shopian’s Zainapora, said. “So far, I’ve plucked 800 cartons of apples, with 40 boxes still there on the trees. It’s a crop worth Rs 40,000 lying under snow now.”

To speed up harvesting, his apple clan even suspended the seasonal packing process. But alas, he said, with 40 percent of the production still on the trees, it snowed to their chagrin.

“Most of the losses were inflicted on the costly hybrid apple,” Farid said. “The snowfall rots the red hybrid apples and a liquid like substance freezes inside it –making the fruit futile.”

The Hilamayan Post

The untimely snowfall has handed over massive losses to orchardists from Herpora, Sedow Chekh, Kellar, Resh Nagri, Chitirpors, Imam Sahib and other adjacent hamlets of Shopian.

While the un-plucked apples and un-pruned branches laid ground for this natural assault, Farid said, the non-local workforce departure from the valley also added to the orchard agony.

“Those labourers would harvest our apples cheaply and quickly,” he said.

“We had around 600 non-locals working in several apple orchards here. But due to targeted killings in Kashmir, they couldn’t work freely. It hit our harvesting process. They would come late and leave early. To ensure their safety, we would even drop them home in our own vehicles. So, yes, that panic drive disrupted our gains for this season.”

The snow calamity has also stirred up the 2019 nightmare, when many apple trees were massively destroyed due to the untimely snowfall in the valley. More downpour, the growers fear, means more disaster now.

The incurred losses have already moved and mobilized Kashmir trade bodies seeking compensation from administration.

To access the losses, Ajaz Bhat, Director Horticulture Department, Kashmir, rushed to Shopian and assured apple growers of government support.

But the weather-beaten apple growers say their anguish is beyond the official stance.

Sameer Dewan, a 5th-generation apple grower owning several orchards across south Kashmir, told The Himalayan Post that it was still the peak-plucking season for apples in Shopain when proper colour and shape appears.

“Even if we had plucked apples before this snowfall, the loss would be same,” he said. “Traders don’t purchase amateur fruit.”

Out of Dewan’s Rs. 1 crore-valued crop, Rs. 70 lakh worth apples are still lying under the ill-timed snow.

“We’re clearly helpless here,” he lamented. “Like I said, harvesting is not something that can be done in two or three days. It takes time. And even before our crop matures now, we receive this untimely snowfall and end up losing everything in the process.”

Notably, Kashmir apple production is a long chain of business. There are some traders who pre-purchase apples before plucking. As a matter of practice, a trader identifies some trees and estimates their number of cartons.

But as the inclement weather destroyed apple orchards, the loss included traders along the chain.

“One of my uncles has pre-purchased 50 trees and had already paid for them,” Dewan said.

“Now the snowfall is taking a toll on him and not on the grower.”

Since the damage is huge, many apple growers are praying that their trees should withstand the weight of the inclement weather.

“This untimely snowfall is more problematic as the snow is like an adhesive- sticking to the branches,” said Zakir Ahmad, a 35-year-old apple grower from Imamsahib area of Shopian.

“We are continuously shaking tress so it doesn’t collapse because of the weight.”

But with over 50 percent of apples still resting on the untrimmed trees, the fear among growers is that the weight of the snow might break the tree.

“And that’s like a death to us,” Zakir said.

“Destroyed apple trees are worse than rotting apples!”