Delicious Kinnaur apples wiped out before bloom

By Vishal Gulati, Shimla, June 25 : The apple of Himachal Pradesh's eye may not hit the market in full bloom.

The well known red and golden apples of Kinnaur district, the mainstay of local growers, are known for their natural sweetness, colour, succulence and prolonged shelf-life.

But last week's weather fury ravaged more than 50 percent of Kinnauri apples.

"The damage in the entire Kinnaur is quite alarming. In some pockets, we have reports that the entire orchards have been wiped out," Horticulture Minister Vidya Stokes said Tuesday.

Stokes told IANS that horticulture experts had reached Rekong Peo, the district headquarters, and would soon reach the affected areas to assess the exact loss.

They would also help the growers revive the damaged orchards.

The loss to the apple crop is between 50 and 60 percent, said Stokes, who herself is an apple grower.

Apples in Kinnaur are grown at an altitude above 10,000 feet. The prominent apple belts in the district are in Sangla and Pooh blocks, the worst affected areas.

Experts say the normal apple production in Kinnaur is around 20 lakh boxes of 20 kg each, which is six to seven percent of the state's total yield.

"Like other parts of the state, we were expecting a record production of 25 to 30 lakh boxes this season in Kinnaur too. But now it will not be more than 15 lakh crates," said Jagat Negi, the horticulture development officer at Rekong Peo.

He said heavy rains between June 16 and 18 had caused flash floods like conditions in the Sangla Valley, where the entire orchards vanished due to landslides.

"The apple orchards have been severely damaged in the valley while in high-altitude areas untimely heavy snow has damaged the trees more," Negi said.

In Pooh, the damage was more owing to unseasonal snow and torrential rains.

Likewise, the Chango, Ribba and Namgiya valleys, which are also apple belts, are hit.

Apple grower Shanta Kumar, who is settled in Nako village in Pooh, said last week's snow had massively damaged the orchards. The area experienced more than two feet snow.

"More than 80 percent of the apple trees have been damaged in the region. Even the remaining standing crop has perished," he said.

Another villager, Sunder Singh, said the damage to the pea crop, the main cash crop in the region, was also quite alarming.

Officials said Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who visited the rain-ravaged areas, including Nako and Pooh, was shocked to see the extent of the damage.

Traders say apples from the high hills of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts start arriving in October, when the crop from other districts in the state is almost over.

However, the apple crop in Lahaul-Spiti is least affected by the recent weather fury.

Besides apples, other fruits like pears, apricots, almonds and grapes, both green and black, are the other major commercial crops of Kinnaur.

--IANS (Posted on 25-06-2013)

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