Global warming may have arrived in Himachal Pradesh's apple crofts, scientists fear, as increasing temperatures have forced cultivators to move upward in search of cooler climes. It has also brought an unexpected silver lining: previously lifeless mountains "deserts" are turning into new apple hubs.
“New areas of apple cultivation have appeared in Lahaul and Spitti and upper reaches of Kinnaur district, as evident from farmers' survey…and analysis of secondary data," scientists from the CSK Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University stated in a study.
The findings are being studied by the Mission on Sustainable Agriculture under the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change (PMCCC).
The “shift of apple belt upwar”" is due to “decrease in chilling hours”. Simply put, “chill hours” mean the amount of cold weather certain fruit trees need to grow.
Agronomy scientist from the Palampur-based university, Ranbir Singh Rana, noted a decrease of more than 9.1 units per year in the "cumulative chill units" of the coldest months of last 23 years. This roughly correspondents to a spike of about 1.2 degrees C in regions like Bajaura in Kullu and the Kotkhai area of Simla.
Confirming the study, scientist P.K. Aggarwal of the environmental sciences division of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute said: “Such findings show that climate change is no distant event, but a constant process. The shift of the apple belt is one example. We can see bigger impacts if measures are not taken.”
According to the study, database from past 18 years showed mean temperature was decreasing at a rate of 0.09 degrees C to 2.1 degrees C per year from November to April whereas maximum temperature showed an increasing trend of 5.80C to 8.10C during November to April.
Another apple-growing region, Theog (Shimla district), also showed a similar trend of upward shift. In Theog, the decrease was “19 cumulative chill units’ hours per year”. The temperature trends in corresponding period showed increase in minimum and maximum temperature by 1.60 degree C and 1.30 degree C in the last 12 years.
Climate change is likely to impact many agricultural activities and all natural ecosystems, India's National Communications Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has stated.