A new trend in apple cultivation has emerged in Himachal Pradesh -- apples are being grown in sparsely vegetative areas at higher altitudes such as Lahaul and Spiti valley, courtsey climate Change.
Fruit production industry in hilly zones is seeing a rise in temperature. Because of this, production of apple has moved to higher altitudes, which earlier were not suitable for this fruit.
A study conducted by the Regional Centre, National Afforestation and Eco-development Board and Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Himachal Pradesh, points out that the rising temperature in Himachal due to climate change has driven the shift.
The study says that apple growing belt in low-lying valley areas like Kullu -- once considered good for apple production -- has now become extremely marginal, resulting in diversification to other fruits like kiwi and pomegranate, and vegetable seed production.
"The snow line once considered as 'white manure' for the apple crop and forest cover necessary for conservation and recharge of natural water bodies has also shifted upward to higher hills. Therefore, the quality apple production has shifted to higher hills and dry temperate zones of Kinnaur and Spiti areas," the study says.
It said that the drier and warmer weather will ultimately result in a shorter growing season and lesser crop yields.
Himachal Pradesh has been divided in four zones on the basis of agro-climatic conditions. Zone I comprises low hills sub-tropical zone up to 1,100 metres, Zone II of mid hills sub-humid zone (1,100 to less than 2,000 m), Zone III of high hills temperate wet zone (2,000 to less than 3,000 m), and Zone IV the high hills temperate dry zone (above 3,000 m).
According to National Horticulture Board, apple can be grown at altitudes 1,500-2,700 m above sea level in the Himalayan range which experience 1,000-1,500 hours of chilling (when temperature remains at or below 7 degrees Celsius each season). The temperature during the growing season should be around 21-24 degrees Celsius.
Planting is usually done in the month of January and February. Loamy soils, rich in organic matter and having proper drainage and aeration are suitable for cultivation.
For optimum growth and fruiting, apple trees need 100-125 cm of annual rainfall, evenly distributed during the growing season. Excessive rain and fog near the fruit maturity period result in poor fruit quality with improper colour development and fungal spots on its surface.
Apple constitutes about 49 per cent of the total area under fruit crops. In Himachal, apple is mainly cultivated in the districts of Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla, Mandi, Chamba and some parts of Sirmaur.
Himachal Pradesh Additional Chief Secretary Tarun Sridhar says that erratic weather patterns are now often seen affecting the apple production in Shimla and other districts.
"Several progressive farmers of the state are now opting for industrial crops such as mushrooms, flowers, off-season vegetables, mostly because of climate change," Sridhar told IANS.
He says that due to climate change the use of pesticides, insecticides and chemical fertilisers has drastically increased and new crop diseases are coming up. He said December and January snow months were often going dry.
Himachal Pradesh's average annual production of apple is around five to six lakh tonnes but the maximum production was recorded in the year 2010-11 when it crossed nine lakh tonnes. Apple production in the state in 2013-14 was 7.39 lakh tonnes, which came down to 6.25 lakh tonnes in 2014-15.
Richard Mahapatra, who has worked extensively on climate change issues and is managing editor of Down To Earth magazine run by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), said that Himachal Pradesh has added more orchards at higher altitudes than before.
"In high altitude areas, the temperature is gradually becoming congenial for apple crop. It means we have opened a new geography for apple as it is being grown at higher and higher altitudes now," Mahapatra told IANS.
He said that it might be good news for the apple growers but it will also enhance various kinds of human activities in the pristine areas which will adversely affect the environment.
"Since Himalaya is the youngest mountain range, it is more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and human interference at higher altitudes. It will eventually lead to further degradation and pollute the atmosphere," Mahapatra added.
Senior Fellow and mentor at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) Suruchi Bhadwal, who has worked widely on apple crop and climate issues, echoed the same views and said the similar phenomenon was also seen in Uttarakhand.
"Because of impact of climate change, production is affected at low-altitude areas. High-altitude areas (dry temperate zones) are now becoming congenial for apple cultivation," she said. She, however, stressed that the scientists had developed some varieties of apple which were more tolerant to high temperature.
Bhadwal agrees shifting of apple crop would have its adverse effect. "High level of human activities and encroachment in the unspoiled region will also bring along certain complexities which may damage the environment," she told IANS.
(Ashish Mishra was in Shimla at the invitation of CSE to attend a workshop on climate change. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)