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Cost of Development: Almond Farmers losing land in Kashmir

Cost of Development: Almond Farmers losing land in Kashmir

In recent decades, anthropogenic changes in the earth’s climate have become the focus of scientific and social attention. The rigorous process exists for a reason. Kashmir’s paddy fields have already been destroyed by brick kilns and almond orchards on karewa (high plateau) lands have been wasted due to clay mining. Now almonds– a scenic area in Pulwama district is losing their charm due to pollution emanating from brick kilns.

Almond Farmers losing land in Kashmir

The Pulwama district is famous for its different varieties of almond production. Almond farmers in the Pulwama district are currently facing different types of obstacles in growing almonds that can earn foreign exchange. The elimination of different types of problems can improve the socioeconomic conditions of the almond farmers in the Pulwama district. The current study will raise awareness among the farming community to increase the production and quality of almonds in the Pulwama district.

Rashid Ahmad Magray had spent his entire life as an almond farmer. He had inherited a small orchard from his father in Payar village, Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir. He built up his almond farm and bought 1,000 high-density apple trees last year due to stagnant prices, declining yields and skyrocketing input costs.

Almond orchards Smoke billowing from a brick kiln in Pulwama Photo Credit: Wahid Bhat/Ground Report

“Within a year, the return was twice as good as the almonds,” he said. In Pulwama and its surroundings, the story is similar. Traditional almond farmers in Kashmir are abandoning their cultivation in search of new opportunities. Hectares of almond orchards line the road to the town of Payar. In between are patches of apple trees, some of which are densely packed, promising a higher yield per tree.

Put aside the problem of contamination; these brick kiln owners have destroyed orchards and vegetation in the area. When the government wants to close down the old brickyards, how come new brickyards have been springing up? said Rashid said.

“They were forced to hand over their almond orchards to rented brick kiln owners as the government did not provide assistance under any scheme. We had applied for loans and sought financial help from the government, but no one listens to us. We cannot maximize profits through these almond orchards. At least we are able to generate some income from the brick kiln owners on a monthly basis, said Magray, who has destroyed all the almond trees in his field.

Gulzar Ahmad Zargar, another resident of Pulwama, had more than 10 kanals of almond-growing land since 1900, but that has now been reduced to about 20 cut trees. The grower has switched to apple farming after failing to find buyers for his almond production on the market.

Labourers working in a brick kiln in Pulwama district of Jammu & Kashmir. Photo Credit: Wahid Bhat/Ground Report

Gulzar said that the disappearance of the almond trees in that area is due to the increase in temperature and the lower availability of water. At the same time, the price of a mann (40 kg) of almonds has been stable since 2016, at around Rs 6,000-6,500, while input costs have almost doubled. They attribute it to a lack of demand. “Imported almonds from Afghanistan and Iran are not only cheaper but also larger than almonds from Kashmir.” Customers find it more attractive, so they don’t buy ours,” Zargar explained.

Almond cultivation has profusely coloured the serenity and tranquillity of the Kashmir landscape. The Kashmir almond has lived up to its reputation as one of the choicest fruits; Kashmir has long been considered the home of almonds. Five varieties of almonds are found in Jammu and Kashmir.

Also Read:  Bhutan: First Carbon Negative Country

Almond cultivation in India is concentrated in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh; however, Kashmir enjoys the distinction of still being the center of the country’s almond industry. The almond production in the state was growing every year as a result, Jammu & Kashmir’s share percentage in the national production has also increased steadily, but decreased during the last 8 years.

Smoke billowing from a brick kiln Photo Credit: Wahid Bhat/Ground Report

The mild climate of this area makes this region unique and offers tremendous opportunities to produce high-quality fruits such as apples, peaches, plums, almonds, apricots, walnuts, etc. and high-value off-season vegetables and ornamental crops. But in recent decades, the annual mean temperature of the Kashmir Valley has risen significantly.

Accelerated warming has been observed during 1980-2014, with intense warming in recent years (2001-2014). During the period 1980–2014, a more pronounced increase in the annual mean maximum temperature was observed than in the annual mean minimum temperature.

Data

Kashmir has lost more than half of its land under almonds in a single year as the growers have axed their almond trees in their orchards bringing down the dry fruit production by 29 per cent in 2015.

Almonds in Kashmir are giving way to apple cultivation, with the former’s area declining by more than 70 per cent in last six years.

As per the data, the land area under almond production was 16,418 hectares in 2011, which has reduced to 6977 hectares in 2017.

In 1994-95, almonds were grown on 20,222 hectares in J&K, which fell to 5,483 hectares in 2020-21.

In 1974-75 (the first year for which data is available), almonds were grown on 9,361 hectares. This peaked in 1994-95 when the crop was grown on 20,222 hectares.

This figure dropped to 7,132 hectares in 2015-16. And, in 2020-21, almonds were grown on 5,483 hectares, data sourced from the department shows.

In the meantime, India’s imports of almonds have grown by more than three times. In 2008, the imports were 34.36 metric tonnes, which rose to 115.05 metric tonnes in 2019.

Reason behind decline?

Speaking to Ground Report horticulture department officials blame climate change and rapid conversion of the land for non-agriculture purposes as the main causes of the axing of almond trees.

The Director of the Horticulture Department, Kashmir, says that generally ‘Kashmir used to have well-defined seasons until the 1990s while the post-90s period has witnessed altering climates, followed by drought years from 1998 to 2003’.

The latest government data on the growth of horticulture crops in the valley has painted a grim picture of almond cultivation in the valley, especially in the Srinagar, Pulwama and Budgam districts.

Budgam district had the highest land under almond cultivation in previous years but many farmers in the central Kashmir district have now shifted to apple cultivation while others have altogether stopped growing any fruit. Alone in the district 5665 hectares of almond land were lost in 2015.

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