Heavy snowfall hit Kashmir Valley for 16 hours on November 7, 2019, wreaking havoc across the area and causing severe damage to crops.
The month of November is the harvesting season for crops such as apple and saffron. However, due to the unexpected icy weather, growers will not be able to harvest as the crops have been badly affected.
"Just like last year and in relaxation of the SDRF (State Disaster Relief Fund) norms, it would be declared as natural calamity. We have been asked to conduct a survey along with Revenue officials and asses the loss. The growers will be compensated as per the assessment report," said Director Horticulture Aijaz Bhat.
Apple producers said among the crops, orchards suffered the heaviest damages as trees could not withstand the snowfall, owing to the presence of foliage. Prior to the winter's onset, growers would prune apple, pear, and other fruit trees to prevent damages. However, this year, the snow began in autumn before leaves shed. Meanwhile, some growers have harvested apples while others were in the process of doing so.
Pruning of the trees was not done in both cases, which made the damage more severe.
"We were yet to carry pruning and foliage was also intact. The trees suffer damages as [the] snow was too heavy for them. The snowfall was unexpected," said Basit Ahmad, a resident of the Shopian district, south part of Kashmir Valley.
"The trees are flat on the ground and not a single tree is standing. It takes years of hard work to raise an apple tree. But all is gone now. We are helpless," Basit added.
Unfortunately, growers said the damage cannot be fixed. The standing crop has also been affected, and some apple varieties are yet to be harvested.
"The apple laden trees have been damaged as well. Some varieties including Maharaji and American are yet to be picked. The damage cannot be fixed," said Gul Mohammad, a grower.
Aside from the trees, the harvested crops that were stored in the open areas have also suffered devastation.
"I had placed apple boxes in an open space in my orchard. The boxes are damaged and need to be replaced. The entire process of packing has to be repeated and that requires manpower. We are yet to assess the damages," orchardist Javeed Ahmad Dar said.
The areas of Harmain and Imam Sahab in the district of Shopian were reportedly hit the hardest. The apple orchards in Pulwama, Damhal Hanjipora, and Dachnipora areas of the district of Anantnag were also struck badly. Orchards in North Kashmir’s Sopore and Baramulla suffered as well.
According to an official of the Horticulture Department, as per the initial assessment, the damage is over 40% in Shopian and Kulgam-- the districts known for producing quality apples.
In addition, 25% of fruit which was yet to be harvested in these twin districts were ravaged.
"The preliminary figures suggest the orchards have suffered 30 percent damage," the official said.
Orchardists have asked the government for compensation over their losses as they were already suffering due to the prevailing lockdown in the Valley. Their situation got worse when heavy, persistent snowfall battered their crops.
"We were facing problems in sending our fruits out of the Valley and snowfall has increased our problems," said Muzzafar Ahmad Shah, a grower.
"We have not picked the last two-three flushes of crop, but those are gone now. The saffron fields are shrouded with snow," saffron grower Abul Majeed, said.
The government assured that compensation would be provided for harvesters which would be between 4 000 to 72 000 rupees or about 56 to 1 000 dollars, depending on the extent of the damage.
This season's first heavy snowfall began on November 6 and continued through the next day non-stop. The harsh weather killed at least seven people, disrupted traffic, interrupted electricity, and triggered avalanches.
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