SRINAGAR, NOVEMBER 6: It was mid-autumn and apple growers were busy harvesting their produce in Kashmir when winter suddenly announced its arrival with an unusually early bout of snowfall on Saturday. A video of a young farmer weeping over his devastated orchard the following day has gone viral. In it, the man is seen desperately trying to salvage apples buried under the snow.
Other apple growers in the Valley have similar stories to tell. The early winter has broken the backbone of the state’s rural economy.
Abdul Gani Mir was the proud owner of a flourishing apple orchard until a day ago. Now, after a bout of heavy snowfall that damaged trees, cut off power supply and closed the roads on Saturday, all he is left with is the knowledge that nature can have a very cruel sense of humour. “I do not even know the extent of damage I have suffered — it should be close to Rs. 10 lakh. All the apples we painstakingly cultivated are rotting under the snow,” he lamented.
Saturday’s snowfall had plunged the Valley into darkness, affecting medical services and cutting it off from the rest of the country. Poor visibility forced suspension of all flights from the Srinagar airport even as heavy snowfall in the Jawahar Tunnel area rendered the Srinagar-Jammu highway unusable.
While basic services have now been restored and life is slowly limping back to normal, the woes of the apple growers are far from over.
Cultivators say the loss to the apple trade, which supports over 20 lakh people, is enormous. And more than the fruit, it’s the damage to the trees that have the farmers worried. “It will take another 16 years for them to become that big again,” said Mr Mir.
The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries has pegged the apple cultivators’ losses at over Rs. 500 crore. “The annual turnover of the Kashmir apple trade is over Rs. 5,000 crore. The apple production this year was supposed to be around 20,000 metric tonnes, but snowfall has damaged a part of it. Fortunately, about half the produce had already been dispatched to various mandis across the country before the snowstorm occurred,” a member of the industry body said.
Apple growers, however, find little comfort in this silver lining. “I used to make Rs. 4-6 lakh from my orchard every year, but I can’t even hope for that now. Who will lend me money, going by the damage suffered by my trees? My livelihood is badly hit,” said Mohammad Ashraf, another orchard owner.
Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah expressed his concern for apple growers on the social media. “Massive damage to apple trees. This will further cripple an economy that is already distressed. I request @jandkgovernor to instruct the administration to assess the damage & ensure adequate compensation to the horticulturalists who have been affected,” he tweeted.