Shopian’s green apple orchards with snow-capped peaks rising above them in the background are a feast for the eyes. Shopian’s apples have gained popularity for their crispiness, aroma, flavour, and good looks. Shopian’s apple orchards are spread over 26,231 hectares, making it the biggest apple producer in Kashmir after Anantnag, which has 33,768 hectares of apple orchards. The Shopian fruit mandi has emerged as a game changer and emanicipator for the farmers and fruit growers of south Kashmir. Earlier, the farmers were dependent on the market in Delhi and were usually left disappointed by the rates their apples fetched there. With the establishment of a market close to home, we are the masters of our own crop now. The fruit mandi in Shopian has become the hub of trade in apples, pears, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches and other fruits grown in south Kashmir.
It is said, “Sopore has the quantity, but Shopian has the quality”. Kashmir is the main source of apples in India. Kashmir’s geography and climate is optimal for the growth of apple and the Kashmiri apple is the king among apples. You can see this instantaneously in the distinguished colour, shape and quality of the apples. There are around 113 varieties of Kashmiri apples that the valley can boast of. People in Shopian enjoy plucking the juiciest apples from trees. October is when the picking of apples from orchards begins. Shopian’s apples are hand-picked with love and carefully packed by local trained persons in wooden or cardboard boxes before being sent to the rest of the country and also countries abroad. Apples are packed in four or five layers and each layer is covered with dry paddy grass for protection. A box carries an average weight of 18 kilograms.
A good portion of apples consists of early dropping ones (Giran). These vary in size and colour and are deemed unsuitable for sale in packaged boxes. Instead, they are supplied to local juice factories located in Lassipora area of district Pulwama. The juice is supplied to local markets while the extract is used as cattle feed.
Since apple cultivation has attracted everyone’s attention, now each year tens of thousands of apple trees are planted and each year thousands of kanals of irrigated land, paddy in particular, are converted into horticulture land (orchards). Experts say that this shift has adversely affected the hydrological cycle in the valley. The shrinking of paddy fields at a rapid rate is contributing to a higher risk of floods. We hope that the craze for apples does not become self-harming for the people of Kashmir.
—The writer is a student at School of Studies in Environmental Science, Jiwaji University, Gwalior. [email protected]