With festival season round the corner, people across the country will have to do without the famed Kashmir apples and walnuts. Fifty percent production, especially of these two fruits, has been destroyed by the catastrophic floods that hit the Valley 20 days ago.
"Initial assessment suggests that 50% of Kashmir's production is hit. We are in the process of segregating the losses. But the worst-hit remains apple, pear and walnut," state agriculture minister Ghulam Hassan Mir told the HT.
Horticulture is a Rs 5000-crore industry in Kashmir and contributes 7-8% to the gross state domestic product with seven lakh families associated with it. "Besides floods, the rains and soil erosion also contributed to this phenomenal loss," said Mir.
September is the peak season of harvest. Orchards were laden with fruits like apple, pear and pomegranate when the flood water and torrential rains affected key fruit-producing districts of Kulgam, Shopian, Anantnag, Pulwama, Budgam and Baramulla.
"We are facing a terrible time. In a vast area, the flood water took over apple trees. In areas where trees were submerged, there is a premature fall of the fruit. What we used to sell at `600 per kg is now selling at `100 because of premature yield. Orchard that would fetch 1000 boxes will now yield only 200 boxes," said Abdul Qayoom, a farmer from south Kashmir's Urichersoo village in Pulwama district, where orchards were worst affected by the floods.
Kulgam, Anantnag and Pulwama were the first to bear the brunt of flood. Eight percent of orchards are affected in the district.
North Kashmir's apple town Sopore is also affected along with parts of Baramulla district.
The poor yield and the loss is likely to push prices of apple and walnut across the country. Every year, Kashmir exports seven crore boxes of fruits, with three crore boxes consumed in the domestic market. Twenty five lakh metric tonne of fresh and dry fruit swarms the country every year from Kashmir. Many national brands dealing with fruit-based products bank on Kashmir.
"There are many orchards that were sold out to parties outside with festivals like Diwali and Eid round the corner. They have made payments in advance. We don't know how to repay and meet their demands," said Aziz Jan, a fruit grower from Bijbehara in south Kashmir.
While fresh fruits, according to official figures, fetches the state between Rs 2500 crore to 3000 crore, dry fruit industry remains between Rs 300 to 400 crore. Horticulture, that fetches Rs 209 crore foreign exchange to Kashmir, stares at more than Rs 1000 crore loss.
Director agriculture Mushtaq Peerzada said his initial assessment of loss is Rs 3674 crore only to agriculture sector. "All 11 districts, including Kargil, of the Valley were affected. Cold shock is disallowing the crop to mature. While three lakh hectares of crop is affected, 1.3 lakh hectares are completely devastated. Total loss to the crop is 70%," said Peerzada. "We are going to face fodder shortage too in near future."