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Warm winter spells doom for farm, tourism sectors in Himalayan states

The Rs 7,000-crore sector in Himalayan states reels under high temperature, low rainfall

india Updated: Jan 18, 2018 21:08 IST
Warm winter,Tourists in Himachal,Apple farm
Farmers working in an apple farm in Shimla’s Kotkhai.(HT File Photo)

The drought-like situation prevailing in the northwest Himalayas may spell bad news for the Rs 7,000-crore apple economy that sustains people residing in the upper regions of Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir.

This winter has been one of the warmest in the last decade, weather department officials said.

Apple orchards usually need 500 to 1,000 chilling hours (with temperatures ranging between 0 degree Celsius at night and 7 degrees Celsius during the day) from December to January. However, the night temperature this season has mostly hovered around 7 degrees Celsius, four degrees above normal, while the day temperature has come close to 20 degrees Celsius.

The region, extending from Kashmir to Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has witnessed no snow in the last three months. Rainfall, on the other hand, has been up to 100% deficient. As apples are a rain or snow-fed crop, this development has caused much concern among cultivators.

A dry apple farm in Himachal Pradesh. (HT File Photo)

The planting of apple saplings – which is usually done when the soil is rich with moisture – have been delayed, and the infusion of fertilisers in the soil has been poor. “For the first time in 20 years, we did not witness any rain or snow through December and January. So far, the region has seen only 300 chilling hours,” bemoaned Balwant Chauhan, an apple grower from Rohru.

Prem Chandra Sharma, a 68-year-old farmer from Hatal Sainj village in Uttarakhand, also predicted difficult times ahead.

According to experts, the warm winter may also impact the production of other crops – including pears, apricots, green almonds, tomatoes, cabbage and cauliflower. “Such weather conditions will hit apple production adversely as Himachal’s orchards depend completely on rainfall. Moisture is a must for cultivation of fruits,” said horticulturist SP Bhardwaj.

Apple economics

Apple constitutes 90% of the fruit crop in Himachal and Kashmir, and is the main source of livelihood for people from seven out of 12 districts in Himachal and nine out of 14 districts in Kashmir.

Himachal witnessed a record production of 892 metric tonnes of apples in 2010-11, but plummeted to 275 metric tonnes the very next year. Ever since, it has shown no sign of recovering.

Kashmir also witnessed a drop in production in recent years with overall temperatures rising across the Himalayan region.

The dry weather may also impact rabi crop cultivation in the hills. “The drought-like situation is likely to hit wheat production,” said Himachal Pradesh agriculture department director Dr Des Raj Sharma.

Meanwhile, the governments of these states are looking at alternative measures to alleviate the situation. JC Sharma, principal secretary of the Himachal Pradesh horticulture department, said the government was trying to make up for the lack of rainfall by setting up irrigation infrastructure and root stock plantations under a World Bank project.

Uttarakhand agriculture minister Subodh Uniyal, on the other hand, said the state government will prepare a report on losses incurred by farmers on the basis of district-level inputs.

Other sectors

The absence of snowfall has affected tourism in the region too, with visitors staying away from their winter hotspots.

“We have no choice but to wait for the snow to rev up the season,” complained Nishant Sharma, a Himachal-based tours and travel operator.

Manali Hoteliers Association president Gajender Thakur had a similar tale of woe to relate. “Many tourists cancelled their bookings after they realised there would be no snowfall in the coming week,” he said.

The situation wasn’t much better in neighbouring Uttarakhand either. The international winter skiing championship, scheduled to be held at Auli from January 16, has been deferred by a month.

Met forecast

The India Meteorological Department (IMD), however, has promised rainfall and snow from January 22.

“Global warming may be giving rise to warmer winters, but regional factors like western disturbances and the El Nino also impact temperatures,” said IMD (Delhi) official DS Pai.

Mahesh Palawat, chief meteorologist at the Skymet Weather Services, said this winter was warmer due to lack of active western disturbances that cause snowfall. “The western disturbances that impacted the Himalayas this time were not strong enough to cause precipitation in the northern states. However, they did disrupt the flow of cold northwesterly winds, making temperatures in the Indo-Gangetic plain plummet,” he said.

Twelve of the 15 warmest years recorded in India occurred between 2001 and 2016, in keeping with global weather patterns.

First Published: Jan 18, 2018 21:08 IST