Apples and climate change in Kashmir
As weather warms over the years, there has been a shift in the agricultural pattern in the Himalayas, with apple cultivation gaining altitude, say experts
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Srinagar/Bandipora: Kashmir is known for its delicious apples. Apple cultivation is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy (along with tourism and handicrafts) with revenue of Rs.1,200 crore a year, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
But if one refers to Sir Walter Roper Lawrence’s book, The Valley of Kashmir (1895), there is no mention of apples. Lawrence served in the Indian Civil Service and was the settlement commissioner of Kashmir at the time. Lawrence writes: “In every way the most important staple in Kashmir is rice and the cultivator denotes all his energy to this crop.” There is no mention of the apple in his list of altitudinal and spring crops of Kashmir valley, which included wheat, barley, opium, mustard, flax, pea, beans, maize, rice, cotton, saffron, tobacco, hop, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, pulses and sesame.
Was Kashmir’s weather in the 19th century not conducive to apple growing? Experts such as Tej Partap, vice-chancellor of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir, Srinagar, admit that the climatic conditions in the states were different in those times.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has steadily increased. Published literature on climate science reveals that the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide has increased 30%, from 280 to 360 parts per million (ppm) since 1860. Tiny air bubbles trapped in an Antarctic ice core show that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures from 160,000 years ago to pre-industrial times are closely correlated. Measurement of carbon dioxide concentration and temperature in recent decades confirms that carbon dioxide concentrations have risen to 360 ppm and temperatures have increased 0.5 degree Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit) over the last 100 years.
“With increasingly warm weather there is already a noticeable change in the agricultural pattern in the Himalayas, with apple cultivation gaining altitude every few years, loss of medicinal plants and deterioration of soil quality,” says Partap.
Sonam Lotus, the director of the weather office, who hails from a small village in Ladakh, a cold desert habitat, corroborates. “As a young boy, I remember that we had no agricultural practices in our village; nothing used to grow as late as 1995, but today my village has apple orchards and other farms.”