There has been a sharp decline in almond production in the Valley in the last few years as growers, fearing loses, have been shifting towards cultivating apples. Mohiudin Yatoo, an almond grower from Central Kashmir’s Chadoora area, blamed inclement weather in the summers for the drastic fall in production. “From past three years, Valley witnessed inclement weather from March and April that drastically affected the production of almonds in Kashmir as majority of growers use an indigenous variety which blooms early,” he said, adding that this year the production has doubled in comparison to the last few years
Experts at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture and Science blame climate change as one of the major factors for the switch over. As per official data available till 2011, land used for almond production has reduced to 7,107 hectares from 16,418 hectares and production has come down to 6360 metric tons from 16, 537 metric tons.
Budgam district is known for its high-quality almond produce, but the recent shift towards apple cultivation has exposed the government’s indifference towards growers.
“Now every almond grower thinks that growing almonds brings misfortune and government is least bothered,’’ says Mohammad Shafi, another grower who had recently started planting apple saplings in his almond orchard.
It is now common knowledge among orchard owners that “doing almond business is to embrace misfortune”.
Mohammad Hussain, another grower from Central Kashmir, complained that despite the technological advancements in agriculture, the same variety of almonds are being grown in Kashmir from many decades. “Nobody is showing any concern about Valley’s almond growers, despite, the almonds produce in Kashmir are rich in taste,” he said.
“The state government has failed to monitor dry fruit production and it is harsh to see the condition of dry fruit production declining at immense pace. Also, we are using the same old indigenous varieties in almond production,’’ says Mohammad Shaban, another grower.
Shiekh Muzuffar, Directorate of Extension Education at Sher-e-Kashmir University, said the almonds are self pollinated and it is during the third week of March every year, almonds starts to bloom and it lasts to 10 to 15 days.
“Form last three years we faced inclement weather between the months of March and April that resulted in the decline in almond production and this quantum decrease forced growers to opt for apple cultivation,” he said.
He said that they have produced different varieties which bloom in the late season.
“We are working on different varieties like Shalimar, Makhdoom and Waris. These varieties are late bloomers, likely in the month of April, as weather remains conditionally good in April as compared to March,’’ he said, adding that they are also working on selection program and there are chances that SKUAST_K may be able to get a new variety in coming years.
“The new variety could be a game changer in almond production as almonds will start blooming late as compared to indigenous varieties.”
Director Horticulture, Kashmir, Rafiq Ahmed Hakeem said that inclement weather is the main cause in decline of almond land and production in the Valley.
“Kashmir is heaven for apple cultivation and is more profitable then almond production. So, farmers prefer profitable market which lies in the apple cultivation, which is also a big reason of farmers shifting from almond to apple cultivation.
Hakeem said that varieties like Californian almond are of good quality and are bigger in size.
“Nowadays, people prefer Californian almond as compared to local production, which are smaller in size.’’
He, however, said that despite all these odds, government is working on addressing this issue. “In coming years we may import varieties from different countries, which will surely improve our almond production. And, more importantly, the horticulture department has identified various nurseries where work on new varieties will take place in coming time,” he said.