Red, green and yellow apples, some ripe and some unripe, lay scattered over acres of land as Aamir Hussain paced towards his orchard on a snowy morning in south Kashmir.
Minutes later as he stood there and looked around, he knelt down shaking his head in disbelief. It took him a while to process what heavy and unseasonal snow had done to trees and crops in his orchard.
He realised that 10 of the 70 trees- some as old as 30 years - had cracked under the weight of the snow, branches of 15 others had either fallen off or were hanging by the thick skin of the trunk and limbs.
“I was devastated by the sight of the broken branches and fallen off apples. The snow was falling heavily. I stood there watching helplessly,” Hussain told News 18 from Abhama, one of several dozen villages in Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam that saw the worst damage due to untimely snow on Saturday.
Early snows in the Valley are never welcome and the farmers are always caught unawares even if there is a weathermen alarm them beforehand.
The farmers dread the sudden snow especially at a time of apple harvesting. The snow, before December, always batter the Kashmiri apple farmers irrespective of the location of the farms and the variety they are picking up.
While some varieties of apples are ready, harvested, packed and sold by August and September, the better ones are dispatched to various mandis in November and December. Some wise and wealthy farmers stock the apples in cold storages and push them into ‘off season’ in order to fetch more profits.
At his small land of two kanal farm, Hussain had turned pale counting his losses. He said 40 percent of his apple produce has gone waste despite the fact that he has been picking apples from morning till midnight in the last four days, courtesy the weather forecast issued by Srinagar Metrological office.
“The Met advisory came a bit late otherwise I could have saved more crop,” he said.
Every year around November first week, Hussain packs 1000 to 1100 apple boxes - mostly the fabled delicious variety called the king of apples - and sends it across to mandis for sale. Each box usually fetches him Rs 1200-1400 depending on the quality, colour and yield of the crop. This year he could pack only a half of his produce leaving the other half on the trees to pick colour and ripen up little knowing that snow will ruin his business.
“If Almighty Allah has willed this, let it be. We are helpless before Him and only he will bring us out of this crisis,” he said, folding his hands.
Near his orchard, Hussian and fellow villagers were seen attending to the broken trees. Some lent support to the broken trees and others were tying polythene and ropes to the damaged limbs of the tree.
Many young men and women were hauling up the scattered apples and covering them under thick tarpaulins. Some villagers with long bamboo type sticks were seen stroking off the snow on the leant over branches, apparently to ease the tension.
Miles away in Sangerwani village of Pulwama, Noor Jehan, a widow and mother of two teenaged kids, sounds tense. Uninvited snow had apparently turned her furious. Three inches of snow on ground, no sight of weather Gods relenting and 20 of the 60 odd creaking and apples falling off the branches frequently made her cringe.
“The snow has ruined us. My kids afford education only because we grow apples. This year we are going to suffer,” said Jehan. “We depend on the proceeds of the orchard."
Fruit growers say the damages are more profound in hilly Shopian district where snowfall has been liberal and damages extensive. No matter, the best and delicious apples of Kashmir come from Shopian.
Farmers claim in most of the places especially the hilly areas, 50-60 percent crop was not harvested. Places like Zawoora, Badrihama, Pinjora, Aglar, Balpora, Sheermal, Keller, Abhama, Arihal, Sangerwani have been badly hit.
Bashir Basheer, President of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers cum Dealers Union, asked government to release immediate financial package for growers who have suffered losses. “Apple farmers should be made aware of measures that will avoid any further damages to their orchards. Besides some relief needs to be extended,” he said.
Ajaz Ahmad Bhat, Director of the Department of Horticulture said he visited many orchards in South Kashmir and is aware of the losses. He said his department had advised growers to speed up the harvesting of apples after the weatherman predicted heavy snowfall and rainfall but because the apples hadn’t picked up the colour, the farmers did not harvest all the crop. “I have assessed the damages today by making on spot visits. As per my initial reports, there are 10 percent damages due to snowfall,” he said.
He said timely pruning, regular shaking snow off the trees and lending support to the branches will minimise the damages to the trees.