Most of the apple laden branches in Javed Ahmad’s farm are hanging so low that he has to squat down to pick the fruit, but as he carefully drops the plucked apples into a bright red plastic basket, his brow furrows.
“Almost every apple I pluck is damaged”, says Javed, an apple grower of Shopian while letting out a low moan of despair.
According to Javed, more than 80 percent of apples in his farm sprawling over eight kanals of land are patted with black splotches caused by hailstorm and scab.
In the month of June and September, hailstorm in the upper reaches of the district destroyed what was otherwise going to be a bumper crop for thousands of growers. The most affected areas included Zawoora, Kanipora, Saidpora, Sedow, Chotipora Chek, Bohrihalan and Chanpora.
“As if hail was not enough, the scab attacked the remaining crop in almost every part of the district”, says Javed. According to him, scab in the low lying villages like Zainpora, Reban, Reshipoara, Kushpora and others ruined a large portion of the surviving crop.
Mohammad Ashraf, president Fruit Mandi, Shopain said that over 50 percent of apple crop across the district was damaged. “Scab has caused more harm than the hailstones”, he added.
Ashraf blamed spurious pesticides for the unprecedented spread of disease. “Most of the dealers this year sold spurious pesticides among growers which wrought havoc with our orchards”, said Mohammad, who himself is an apple grower.
A general opinion among the apple growers in the district is that the pesticide dealers took full advantage of lockdown and sold the fake pesticides as there were no enforcement agencies around.
“The dealers made a killing as there was hardly any check on the sale of spurious pesticides due to the strict and protracted lockdown. We never see any government team checking the pesticide dealers here”, alleged Riyaz Ahmad, a well-heeled orchardist from Shopian town.
Riyaz opined that the government must take samples from the pesticide warehouses to detect the fake pesticides before they could make their way into open markets and destroy horticulture sector.
“We have requested authorities umpteen times to form flying squads to check the counterfeits, but our pleas always went unheeded”, he added.
A number of apple growers told Greater Kashmir that the government never took the issue seriously.
“We are groaning under the burden of different loans. For last two years the hostile weather conditions caused much damage to our apple orchards and government gave us peanuts in the name of compensation “, said a group of apple growers at Fruit Mandi Shopian, adding that this year their hopes of a first rate harvest were largely dashed by the fake pesticides.
Last year, an unseasonal snowfall on November 3 caused humongous losses to apple growers. The apple traders pegged the losses at over Rs 5 billion. In 2018, a similar snowfall caused a huge devastation to both the apple farms and produce.
“The growers will continue to suffer unless government shows some seriousness towards addressing their genuine concerns”, said, Ashiq Hussain, an apple trader.