Climate Change is Changing the Way Apples are Being Produced. Here’s How

By Anchal Kashyap

Horticulture plays a pivotal role fostering economic, nutritional security in India. Climate
change, however, has manifested in the horticulture sector through various ways. Reduced
snowfall in the winter, rains in the spring and summer have resulted in drought-like
conditions, causing moisture stress, and preventing trees from flowering properly and
routinely. Loss of vigor, fruit bearing ability, reduction in fruit size, and increase in pest
attack eventually result in low production and poor quality of temperate fruit crops such as
apple, peach, and plum. As a result, apple-growing zones have shifted from lower to higher
elevations. The article discusses the negative consequences of changing climate on apple
production in Himachal Pradesh, which is also known as the fruit bowl of India.

Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, landslides, sea level rise, as well as natural
calamities such as earthquakes, tsunamis, have had a negative impact on the global economy.
It necessitates international cooperation along with local and national level policies. The
erosion of topsoil by the loss of forest cover causes floods and droughts and affects the apple
production in the country.  Climate change refers to the long-term change in the day-to-day
weather conditions. A secure agricultural environment in a country will be at a better position
to cope with the challenges caused by the changing climate.


Climate and horticulture

The horticulture sector has gained prominence in the last few years, as it accounts for a large
share of income for the small and marginal farmers. Apple production manages 0 .16% of the
total cropped area in fruit production in the country and Himachal Pradesh has the second
largest area under production after Jammu and Kashmir. The mountainous regions and
communities that solely rely on agriculture are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Even though the farmers grow a variety of crops in the Himalayan region, apple cultivation is
the most profitable given the difficult terrain in the upper belts of the region.

Even though the area has increased, the productivity has overall declined in the state of
Himachal Pradesh. One of the main reasons attributed to this was the changing climate. The
rise in temperature combined with declining precipitation have affected the apple cultivation
and now is a matter of grave concern in the region. 


Changing weather conditions

To begin with, climate changes affect the pattern of flowering, bearing, and hence the fruit
yield. The absence of early cold in December and January is thought to have a negative
impact on chilling requirements. Second, in addition to the ecological consequences of
changing climate conditions, there is a widespread belief that climate change has also played
a key role in the prevalence of various pests and diseases. Additionally, even if a farmer
manages to protect his crops from pests, it becomes impossible to reach the markets because
the roads are buried in deep snow or rainwater. During the harvest season from August to
November, the farmer experiences heavy losses due to improper roads and lack of storage
facilities.  In regions where cloudbursts are becoming prominent, productivity has declined
considerably.


Shifting cropping patterns and diversification


In general it can be said that as the temperatures are rising, the glaciers are retreating at a
faster rate. The Himalayan glaciers are retreating at 10 to 60 meters per year and will
continue to retreat further as the temperature continues to rise. According to projections from
Himachal Pradesh, rainfall has decreased by 40% during the last 25 years. The erratic
climatic conditions over the years has resulted in a decline in fruit productivity. Various
studies revealed that an increase in the average temperature, prolonged droughts during
summers, negligible or no snowfall during winters has rendered certain areas unfit for apple
cultivation. These changes in the temperatures and snowfall pattern have been observed by
the farmers’ as they analyse snowfall and rainfall instances to explain deviations from the
ideal climate. The farmers deduce vast amounts of information about the climate by the apple
performance years. For instance, heavy rainfall in the month of march can hamper the
flowering stage and can result in stunted growth of the fruit, cloud cover in the month of
August can result in less than usual redness of the fruit. Because of all these factors observed
by the famers over the years, they have now shifted to other crops like  coarse grains,
seasonal vegetables and other horticulture species in regions where apple production was dominant. Another option is diversification of income by venturing into the tourism industry
which is evident in Kullu district where large farmers are moving towards hotels, guest
houses.  However, switching to other crops can not always be an option for middle and small
farmers because of their low capacity to take risks and the lack of capital and an
understanding of the credit system. The tourism industry is also slowly saturating in
Himachal,  resulting in the dominance of only a few huge hotels.
The apple growing areas have now shifted to the higher altitudes. The main reason for this
shift is attributed to the fact that conditions like winter warming hampers the flower and fruit
development stage which in turn reduces the productivity in the region.
 
The Brighter side


Even though the horticulture sector in Himachal is soaring and is in dire need of state
intervention, the situation has also opened new doors to grow other commercially viable
crops like pomegranate, persimmon, pecan nuts. The government has visioned various
initiatives like farm credit, required technology and allocation of funds to boost the growth of
these new crops and facilitate the farmers with the knowledge and support they need to
cultivate them.


Conclusion


In terms of the acute risks of imminent climate change, the Himalayan environment is
extremely vulnerable. Because of its geology and terrain, the Himalayan ecosystem is rapidly
nearing a state of disequilibrium, with visible changes in its resources and environment.
While the farmers can grow other commercial crops in the region where apples are no longer
viable, there is an urgent need for government support and introduction of schemes, credit
facilities, and technical aid to assist the farmers.


Anchal kashyap, PhD student, Jindal School of Government and Public Policy

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