Wettest May-June in decade hits Kashmir’s cherry growers hard

Farmers growing traditional varieties of cherries are facing more brunt of prolonged precipitation than those growing new varieties

By Irfan Amin Malik
Published: Thursday 27 July 2023
Since much of the produce has broken due to regular rainfall, many farmers did not even get the amount they spent on purchasing pesticides and fertilisers. Photo: Irfan Amin Malik.

The prolonged cold weather and rains this year have devastated the cherry crop when the harvest period was at its peak in the Kashmir Valley.

Cherry is considered a vital crop for the farmers in the Valley as it provides additional income to them in May-June since all other fruits in Kashmir are harvested in autumn. 

Eight cherry varieties grown in Kashmir include makhmali, siya, mishri, jaddi, Italy, dabal, vishkan and stela. Four among eight varieties, mainly mishri, jaddi, makhmali and dabal, have good demand in the market. Mishri is considered sweeter than all other varieties.

The annual production of the stone fruit is around 12,000 metric tonnes, making Jammu and Kashmir the largest cherry producer in India, according to official figures.

The Kashmir Valley contributes to 95 per cent of the total cherry production in India. “Kashmir annually sends around 3,500-4,000 metric tonnes of cherries to other states of India. Cherry is being cultivated in the region on around 2,800 hectares, which yields an annual turnover of around Rs 130-150 crore,” said an official from the horticulture department.

Also read: A long lull for Kashmir’s cherry, strawberry growers

The distressed farmers told this reporter that the rains followed by hailstorms during the harvest season had led to cracks in the fruit and they could not sell their produce.

“From spraying quality pesticides to timely usage of manure and fertilisers, I took every measure to ensure good quality produce this year. But due to heavy rainfall, we suffered huge losses,” said 62-year-old Mohammad Abdullah Sofi, a farmer from Gutlibagh village of central Kashmir’s Ganderbal.

“We did not get any chance to harvest cherries. The rotten cherries can still be seen on the trees. We expect the government to swing into action and provide relief to the affected farmers.” 

“Due to weather vagaries both strawberry as well as cherry crop did not hit the markets this year. Cherry production was affected by 75 percent this year. The fruit consumers also did not prefer to consume fruits during the cold weather,” said Kashmir Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association president Bashir Ahmad Bashir.

During the past six years, fruit growers would make a good income in the form of cherries, but this year, the crop has been devastated due to inclement weather, Sayar Ahmad, a fruit grower from south Kashmir’s Losedanow village of Shopian, said.

“Cherry crop would provide growers a good income when a farmer is in dire need of cash to invest in apple cultivation and orchard management. However, this year the rains during the harvest season did not allow growers to harvest the crop,” Ahmad pointed out.

He added that almost 80 per cent of mishri, a sweeter variety of cherry, was spoiled due to wet weather, leading to a dip in its prices.

“Cherry is a delicate crop and extremely sensitive to extreme weather conditions, requiring a moderate temperature for optimal growth. Having a very low shelf life, cherries cannot sustain heavy rains or high temperatures,” said the 30-year-old grower.

Watch video: Climate change may be causing an apple crisis in Himachal and Kashmir this year; here’s how

Manzoor Ahmad Parra, president fruit growers association, Ganderbal, said torrential rains battered the makhmali and mishri varieties of cherry.

Sofi, who has been involved in cherry farming for more than 40 years, said though rates were fine, the lack of quality crop has anguished the farmers. “On an average my cherry farm would yield me around 10,000 boxes of cherry, but this season, I barely got 1,300 boxes. Similarly, I would earn around Rs five lakhs from the cherry crop compared to less than a lakh rupees this year.”

The untimely heavy rainfall in May-June caused extensive damage, leaving me with piles of ruined cherries. Never have I seen such weather in the spring and summer months, said Sofi.

In Gutlibagh, farmers complained that of the expected produce worth Rs two crore, they could only get produce worth just Rs four lakh. Since much of the produce has broken due to regular rainfall, many farmers did not even get the amount they spent on purchasing pesticides and fertilisers.

However, the farmers growing traditional varieties of cherries are facing more brunt of prolonged precipitation than those growing new varieties.

“The Italian cherries have been slightly hit due to incessant rains. The horticulture department has imported new cherry varieties from European countries that are somehow climate resilient,” said Parra.

The farmers in Kashmir are now trying to replace traditional cherry trees with new imported trees. Cherries apart from Ganderbal and Shopian are grown in Tangmarg, Baramulla in north Kashmir and Srinagar in central Kashmir.

The Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Union Territory, according to the government, is an agro-state, whose economy is predominantly dependent on agriculture, with nearly 70 per cent of the population engaged in the allied sectors. 

Even official figures revealed that about 3.3 million people in Kashmir are directly or indirectly involved in horticulture. The booming sector also contributes over eight per cent to J&K’s Gross Domestic Product.

This May (the harvest time for cherries in Kashmir) has been the wettest during the last 10 years, according to the Meteorological Department, J&K.

For example, J&K and Ladakh received 113 millimetres (mm) of average precipitation in April this year against a normal of 99.5 mm — registering an increase of 13 per cent. Also, from April 28 to May 4, J&K recorded 59 mm rainfall, some 70 per cent above normal.

“Heavy spells of snow, rains and heatwaves coupled with sudden windstorms and hailstorms point towards serious climatic changes. This year temperatures remained below average, with approximately 35 out of 45 days being partly to mostly cloudy,” said a senior weather official.

Chief Horticulture Officer, Ganderbal, Abdul Hamid Bhat, told this reporter that the report of the losses suffered by farmers has been compiled and accordingly sent to the disaster management department.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.