Ganderbal: Excessive rains and outbreak of diseases have turned grape cultivation sour this year for hundreds of farmers in Reapora and its adjoining villages in this central Kashmir district.
Located about 23 kilometres from summer capital Srinagar, Reapora is known as the Valley’s ‘village of grapes’ for its production of quality grapes. But the excessive rainfall earlier this year and the consequent outbreak of fungal diseases in summer have ruined the potential crop of grapes.
“People call us dache Reapora (village of grapes), but this year we have become mache Reapora (village of flies), for the grapes in our orchards are rotting and attracting flies,” Muhammad Afzal, a grower who owns a two-kanal field in the village, told Kashmir Reader.
Afzal said the yield from his orchard earned him Rs 40,000 last year.
“This year, I had to clear the entire vineyard, because it was attracting flies. The stench from the rotting grapes was becoming difficult to bear,” he said.
Most of the orchards in Reapora and its neighbouring villages are located adjacent to the houses in order to allow the growers a better sight of the fruit-laden climbers.
The orchards’ otherwise-beneficial proximity to homes is making things worse for the growers now.
Rouf Nabi, a grower from Khranihama village, said: “Since the orchard was closer to my house, I couldn’t afford to let the damaged grapes rot in the orchard. Only good option I had was to get rid of the damaged fruit.”
The grapes produced in Kashmir find mention in Sir Walter Lawrence’s book ‘Valley of Kashmir’. He states that Kashmir “had been celebrated for its grapes”, but the people discarded its cultivation “owing to exaction”.
The vineyards of Reapora situated at the mouth of Sindh Valley are now the only major reminiscent of grape cultivation in Kashmir.
Traditionally, the growers in the villages had been using wooden structures as support for the climbers to prevent them from rotting or collapsing due to snow or load of the fruits. But of late, they adopted a better technique called ‘bower system’ to enhance the production.
“Nothing could prevent the damages this year. First the rains hit us in spring and then the outbreak of fungal diseases in early summer did the rest,” Nabi said.
“An expert team that visited my vineyard recently said that it was too late to find a cure. They advised spray of a fungicide in my orchard only to prevent the disease outbreak the next year,” he said.
The Horticultures department’s experimental vineyard at Kralbagh too is not in a healthy state.
Ghulam Rasoool Bhat, also from Khranihama, was sold the expected crop of the orchard for Rs 4, 60, 200 this year.
“Now, I am not even expecting a return of Rs one lakh from the yield,” he said. “With the fall in production, the rates have shot up. And it will further discourage the retail of whatever grapes we can produce.”
At present, a 5.5-kilogram grape box sells for Rs 900 in the wholesale markets of the Valley.
Muhammad Yousuf, a senior employee in the Horticulture department working at the experimental orchard, said he has never witnessed such a downfall in production before.
“All varieties of grapes have got affected due to unsuitable weather and diseases,” he said. “On an average, our field yields 12 MTs of grapes a year, but this year the orchard may not even produce half a MT of grapes.”
He said humidity in the air allowed the growth of fungal diseases.