Grow apples but with caution

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Converting irrigated land into orchards may have its costs

By: Muhammad Younis Sheikh

Kashmir proudly known as the paradise of earth is also home to temperate fruits like apple for which the state is very famous across the globe. The many shades of Kashmir will leave a sense of deep joy, contentment and satisfaction in you. It is only nature that will never fail you. Nature adds its dash of color to the dimmed overcast day.

Today, lets walk you through the apple orchards of Shopian as we know that Kashmir is referred to as the ‘famous fruit bowl’ of India. The green apple orchards dotted with snow capped peaks rising above the horizon is a feast for the eyes.

Kashmiri apples particularly Shopian apple have gained popularity among the people across the globe for its crispiness, aroma, flavor and attractiveness. Shopian’s apple orchards are spread over 26,231 hectares, making it the biggest apple producer after Anantnag, which has 33,768 hectares of apple orchards. Shopian fruit Mandi has emerged as a change agent and a tool of emancipation for the farmers and fruit growers of south Kashmir. Earlier, the farmers were dependent on the market in Delhi and were usually left disappointed. With the establishment of a market close to home, we are the masters of our own crop which wasn’t the case earlier. The fruit and vegetable market Shopian has become a platform for this mass trade of apples, pears, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches and likewise.

Though apple growers of Sopore and Sopore fruit mandi too are doing great and producing big chunks of apple but in Kashmir people say, “Sopore has the quantity, Shopian has the quality.”

Kashmir is the prime source of the total apple production of the country. Kashmir’s geography ultimately is the boon for the optimal growth of apple and thus Kashmiri apple is the king in quality. You can make an instantaneous judgment on its uniqueness by seeing the distinguished color, shape and quality of the apples.

There are around 113 varieties of Kashmiri apple that the valley can boast of. People in Shopian enjoy plucking the juiciest apples from the trees. October is the month when picking of apples begins in Kashmir valley.

Shopian apple are specially hand-picked with love and carefully packed by local trained person in wooden or cardboard boxes waiting to be shipped to the rest of the country and abroad. Apples are packed in four or five layers and each layer is covered with dry paddy straw in boxes. A box carries an average weight of 18 kilograms.

A good portion of apples consisting of early dropping (Giran), varying in size and color, and deemed unsuitable for sale in packaged boxes are supplied to the local juice factories located in the Lassipora area of district Pulwama. The juice is supplied to the local markets while the extract is used as the cattle feed.

Though the horticulture, particularly the apple cultivation has attracted every one’s attention, now and each year tens of thousands of apple trees are planted and each year thousands of kanals of irrigated land, paddy in particular, are converted into horticulture land (orchards), the trend has something into it to worry about.

Experts say that this shift has adversely affected the hydrological cycle in the valley. The shrinking of paddy fields at a rapid rate is also contributing to a higher possibility of floods.

Need of the hour is that while giving a boost to the horticulture, the concerned authorities as well as those involved in apple growing spare some moments to think about what experts are saying.

Thinking of good economy is appreciable but not at the cost of the environment and ecology. The experts’ assertions that shrinking of paddy fields could contribute to the higher possibility of floods is to be taken seriously. People are still having nightmares about the horrible floods of 2014.

It is therefore advisable that instead of cultivating apple trees in irrigated land and thus adversely effecting the hydrological cycle, let, those keen into apple growing, go for high-bred apple cultivation where they may not need much land but get better yield.

  • The writer is M.Phil, Jiwaji University Gwalior and can be reached at [email protected]

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