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Dark clouds over green valley

In the peak of June as tourists make a beeline for the interior villages of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh

In the peak of June as tourists make a beeline for the interior villages of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti districts of Himachal Pradesh,locals have no time to chat with them or pose for pictures. “Aap toh aaraam karne aaye hain,hamare paas toh sir uthane ka bhi waqt nahin hai (you have come here to relax,we do not even have time to look up from the fields,” says Jangmo,a woman farmer working in her pea fields in Nako village of Kinnaur.

A look at last year’s pea production figures of the state agriculture department for the village’s single-crop economy tells why Jangmo isn’t looking to make a quick buck by helping out tourists. This Himalayan hamlet situated towards the border of Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti district,12,000 feet above sea level,home to just about 25 households,sold peas worth nearly Rs 3 crore last season.

In Lahaul and Spiti valleys,peas and potatoes worth Rs 100 crore were produced in 2009 — an all-time high.

Going by the official figures for last year,1,710 hectares yielded 18,640 metric tonnes of peas worth Rs 75 crore,and around 790 hectares produced 12,500 metric tonnes of high-quality,pest-free seed potatoes fetching Rs 25 crore. The district is sparsely populated and has 33,224 inhabitants (as per 2001 census figure).

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However,unpredictable changes in weather pattern leading to frequent,unsolicited rains in summers have become a cause for concern for farmers. The rains have not only cut down on production,but may also snatch away the USP of “disease-free” production tag attached with the two main cash crops of the cold desert.

The fears are not unfounded. Last year,the production of seed potatoes took a beating by nearly 18 per cent owing to the attack of late blight disease triggered by moisture due to summer rains. This year,peas too are part of the story. “The worries due to rains have been building for the past two years. For,some villages saw damage to crops due to sudden rains,leading to pest attack on standing crops of potato and peas,” says Rajender Kumar Verma,agriculture development officer,Lahaul-Spiti.

The agriculture department and Krishi Vigyan Kendra Kukumseri reported that Ascochyta Blight and Root Rot disease attack nearly 12 per cent of peas crop in Lahaul and Spiti district this year due to high moisture and temperature touching 25 to 26 degrees Celsius.

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“The cold desert district has been known for negligible rains — a feature that gives a unique identification to its disease-free potatoes and peas. But the new trend of summer rains,which cause water to stand in the fields,could have far-reaching effects on its identity and productivity,” adds Rajender Kumar.

Lahaul and Spiti got 614 per cent excess rain in June this year as per the record of the state Met department.

“From June 1 to 9,the district got 103.5 mm rainfall whereas the normal scale of rain is 14.5 mm. While the district used to get the lowest rain among all 12 districts,it has jumped to number five — after Kullu,Mandi,Solan and Shimla — this summer,says Director,Met Department, Manmohan Singh.

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After this year’s harvest ends in September-October,the extent of damage by rain and its impact on returns of farmers would be clear.

While last year the loss was not big enough to count,“this year the heavy rains in June and later nearly 2-feet snowfall in Keylong have damaged nearly 15 per cent on the peas crop”.

Singh says that in the past years,the upward shift of the snowline in the state had turned out to be more favourable for apples. “Now,rains also seem to be a part of the same phenomena of change in weather pattern. In the last decade,increase in rainfall here has been steady each year rising by a 2 to 4 per cent,but this year has seen a big shift,” he said

The situation is yet not so bleak with potatoes continuing to bring windfall gains to farmers of Lahaul.

Urgyan Bodh of Chichim village in Spiti says,“We have traders coming in from as far as West Bengal,Bihar,Jharkhand and Karnataka to procure seed potatoes. As compared to other districts,which produce edible potatoes,we fetched Rs 10 more for every kilo of the crop.” He believes Lahaul would continue to have a upper hand in peas production “because the timing of its harvest does not coincide with any other place and our produce dominates the market”.

First published on: 18-06-2010 at 23:53 IST
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