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Desi Kashmir apples fast disappearing as climate change takes a big bite

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Orchards in Kashmir have been buffeted by unseasonal snowfall the last three years, slashing harvests of local varieties of apples. Now, the government's focus is on ‘high-density’ imported breeds that mature fast.

Desi Kashmir apples fast disappearing as climate change takes a big bite
Unseasonal snowfall in Kashmir has caused heavy damage to apple orchards, destroying up to half the harvest this year. This is a threat to homegrown apples which could become a rarity in India if the country’s main orchards are wiped out, The Guardian reported.
Severe damages
A large number of fruit-bearing trees in Kashmir, where almost 80 percent of India’s apples are grown, suffered damages due to unseasonal snowfall in October this year. According to a PTI report, snowfall caused extensive damage to orchards in Shopian and Kulgam districts in south Kashmir, where 50 percent of the fruit crop was yet to be harvested.
Farmers have lost their crops for the third year in a row because of early and heavy snowfalls in the Kashmir valley.
“In the light of the changing climate, apple harvesting is not sustainable ,” Dr Irfan Rashid, assistant professor at the University of Kashmir, told The Guardian.
Apple industry
The apple industry, which sells its produce in India and abroad, contributes Rs 5,000 crore to the local economy annually.
With climate crisis worsening, orchards in the Kashmir valley will become unsustainable in the next few years, researchers have warned.
Farmers suffered damages of Rs 500 crore in 2018 and Rs 2,250 crore in 2019, when Kashmir witnessed the heaviest snowfall in 60 years, Kashmir’s Department of Horticulture said.
“The harvest time for many apple varieties is November. In the last five years, we have had three erratic snowfalls and in the future the situation may exacerbate,” Rashid said.
New strategies
To encourage farmers to plant new saplings, the government is doling out subsidy schemes for new 'high-density' imported varieties, which can be harvested earlier.
“We cannot stop what is coming. The only way out we have is conversion to high-density varieties,” Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, Director General, Horticultural Department, told The Guardian.
The new strategy could help farmers mitigate losses due to erratic snowfalls as research published this year shows new varieties have the potential to generate significant economic returns.
However, the move would result in a loss of local varieties like ambri, which are now shrinking.
Farmers averse to new breeds
Farmers do not want to adopt new varieties as they would have to uproot the existing orchard to plant new saplings.
“It was not only the year’s harvest lost in front of my eyes, but the three decades of hard work by me and my family, destroyed,” Nawaz Ahmad Thoker, a farmer from Ramnagri, told The Guardian.
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