Extreme weather wreaks havoc on Himachal’s apple orchards

Extreme weather wreaks havoc on Himachal’s apple orchards

Extreme weather wreaks havoc on Himachal’s apple orchards

Himachal Pradesh's farmers and orchardists face heavy losses that are likely to impact apple prices across the country.


Shimla: The farmers and orchardists of India's fruit basket — Himachal Pradesh   are bearing the brunt of extreme weather. The orchards in the state, primarily apple, have suffered heavy losses due to unseasonal rain, snow and hailstorm that hit the Shimla region (which includes Theog, Narkanda, Kotkhai, also known as the apple belt) over the last two months. 

According to HP Horticulture Department, Himachal’s turnover from horticulture is Rs 4 to 5 thousand crores every year. In an internal assessment survey conducted by the Horticulture Department in May 2021, it was found that 55,515 plants were destroyed, while 2,00,7000 plants were partially damaged — impacting 60,000 farmers and orchardists.

The department recorded the loss in horticulture due to snowfall and hailstorm in April as Rs 254 crore. However, the Kisan Sabha, an association of farmers and orchardists, pegs these losses at more than Rs 2,000 crores.

The ill-timed snowfall and hailstorm in April and May coupled with a deadly second wave of COVID-19 has doubled the concerns of the farmers and orchardists. Due to lockdown restrictions imposed by the state government, orchardists encountered a severe labour crisis as most of the labour engaged in the orchards come from other states. Also, orchardists were not able to move around to tend to those orchards that were far away. 

The loss has significant ramifications. According to the Himachal Pradesh Economic Survey, the agro-horticulture sector contributes 13 per cent to the state's GDP. Apple horticulture, which is the state's economic backbone, has the largest share in it. 

Apple county undone

Himachal Pradesh is the second-largest apple producing state in the country. According to the statistics of an internal survey put forth by the Horticulture Department, ‘3,68, 603 metric tonnes of apples are grown in 1,13,154 lakh hectare area in Himachal Pradesh’.

More than 100 varieties of apples are being grown in the state. With the arrival of new varieties, apple horticulture has also been introduced in warmer regions in low altitude areas. The maximum apple production is in the Shimla district, which produces about 60 to 65 per cent of the state's total harvest. Apple horticulture also happens in regions of Kinnaur, Mandi, Kullu, Chamba and Lahaul-Spiti.

JC Sharma, the director of the HP's Horticulture Department, said that Shimla has the highest number of orchardists who have suffered losses. In many places, entire apple saplings have been uprooted.

"There was so much hailstorm that the anti-hail net installed to protect the apples also burst. Our plants were also uprooted due to excessive snow," said Rohit Sharma, an orchardist from Theog.

Apple plants have been uprooted and hailstorm has destroyed many orchards of the region. Due to this, the orchardists will not be able to harvest the crop for the next five to ten years. Rohit added that the maximum damage by hailstorm has occurred in Theog, Narkanda, Kharapathar, Baghi and Matiana areas of Shimla district. 

The hailstorms were so severe that trees were uprooted and anti-hail nets ruptured. (Left) What apples remain are badly damaged and are not expected to fetch good prices (Picture courtesy: Rohit Prashar)

A ripple effect 

Prashant Sehta, an apple orchadist and the general secretary of Young and United Growers Association, which works for the welfare of apple orchardists, believes that the damage caused to the orchards  due to the extreme weather in April has doubled with the hailstorm of May 31, cutting the harvest by half. "Even the remaining crop is damaged which won't get good prices in the market. A box of apples which usually sells for Rs 2,000 will fetch Rs 900 - 1000 because of the stains," he added.

According to HP Horticulture Department, 3.20 crore apple boxes were produced in 2019. This time too, the Horticulture Department had estimated the production of 3.50 crore apple boxes. However, the unpredictably heavy hailstorms have changed these equations, and low output is expected this year.

The apple horticulture nurseries have suffered a loss of Rs 30 crore due to the hailstorms. The damage will naturally affect the prices of apples across the country.

However, the most affected are the farmers and orchardists of Himachal. Gaurav Semta, an orchardist from Theog said, “My orchard is 70% damaged due to the heavy hailstorm. During the flowering stage, I was hopeful of getting a good crop this year, but the sudden shift in weather has shattered me. I am constantly worried about the livelihood of my family," he added. Gaurav Semta and Rohit Sharma have both demanded that the government compensate them for this loss.


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