<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>If one makes their way through Shimla’s sun-stained Mall Road at this time of the year and talk about how cold the temperature is, there is a strong likelihood that a local resident will tell you that it should have been snowing by now. Small talk aside, this change in the weather has had grave consequences in the agrarian economy of the hill state, with losses mounting to around Rs 2,000 crore.According to data with the state department of horticulture, an increase in the temperature between April 4 and 5 this year was the reason behind the loss of over a crore apple boxes, informs horticulture development officer Dr Kaushal Mehta. “We lost another crore boxes due to the intermittent hailstorm. That is a loss of over Rs 2,000 crore approximately,” says Dr Mehta, adding that farmers hardly know how to use the anti-hail guns provided by the state government. He says that while Himachal Pradesh produced between three to four crore boxes in 2016, in 2017, the produce was only two crore boxes.Traders, growers and officials say that the change in the temperature has led to a dwindling crop year after year. In the Solan Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), secretary Parkash Kashyap says that while they sold over 50 lakh boxes in 2015, it dropped to 32 lakh in 2016. This year, as the apple season has just concluded, trade of over 36 lakh boxes have been registered. In the Dhalli APMC, where most of Shimla’s apple trade is centred, secretary Dev Raj Kashyap says that in 2015-16, over 34 lakh boxes were sold. This quarter, only 22 lakh boxes have been sold so far.In over 15 APMC mandis across the state, most of the apple trade is carried out in the mandis at Solan, Dhalli, Parwanoo, Rohru, Bhuntar, Barala, Bautrol and Jasoor. The average rate of a box is Rs 1,100 and it ranges from Rs 400 to Rs 3,600.Apple grower and trader Narender Chouhan of the Dhalli APMC says that the apple plant needs a chilling period of over 1,100 hours in temperatures below 7 degree Celsius between December to March. But because of rising temperatures, most apple plants need to make do with 900 hours. “Because of this, traditional varieties of the crop like Royal Delicious, Red Golden, Golden, Red June, Summer Queen, Richard, Packham, etc., have made way for lab-made spur varieties like Vance Delicious and Tidesman Early,” says Chouhan. Spur varieties need a lesser chilling period but the fallout is that they ripen earlier and are less juicy; traditional varieties from the Kinnaur belt thrive for over 3-4 months.Farmer Amar Singh, who works in an orchard situated over 40 kms from Shimla, says the credit system has also led to a lot of discrepancies. “For every transaction of Rs 1 lakh that we make, the trader first gives us Rs 7,000-8,000. The full amount is usually handed out after he makes a deal later on. In case the deals falls through, we lose the produce and the earnings on it,” says Singh.APMC officials say that to curb these problems, an online trade mechanism e-National Agriculture Market (eNAM) was introduced. But traders and growers like Chouhan say that without mobile connectivity in remote areas, transaction does not go through. In Dhalli APMC alone, where they made a revenue of Rs 6.5 crore this year, trade worth Rs 88 lakh was done online.Another problem that growers complain about was the heavy use of fertilisers. “Pesticides have come to be used heavily in the last few years, and after that, we need to use an anti-healing powder to restore the plant, which is cumbersome,” said Singh. The levying of a GST of 18% on fertilisers, Chouhan adds, has led to their woes. He says that the state has opened nurseries in areas like Solan and Kullu where apples has never been cultivated, instead of apple-rich areas like Kinnaur and Kotkhai.Trying to cash in on these problems, the BJP has announced a horticulture university for farmers in its manifesto. BJP spokesperson Mahender Dharmani says that apart from that the BJP has more plans in store. “We have promised imported hail nets, which we will provide at 80% subsidy, and we will take cold storage to the grassroot level which is now restricted to only those who are rich. We will also come out with an annual formula for compensation due to natural calamities, and promote organic cultivation,” says Dharmani. “The Congress did not build roads in the apple belt, which is the trade’s lifeline. We will bring better roads.”Naresh Chauhan of the Congress counters these promises with the question of import duty. “When the BJP came to power in 2014, PM Modi said that import duty will be increased to counter the competition from foreign produce from countries like New Zealand, China, Chile, since the production cost for our farmers is very high. But they haven’t yet delivered on that promise yet,” says Chouhan.Dr Mehta says that irrespective of who forms the government, the state department needs help in its efforts to counter the dwindling crop. “We brought in plants from Italy with smaller plumage to make it easier to save them during hailstorms, and have brought in sprinklers to decrease freezing injuries in the crop. The government needs to perhaps bring in an insurance scheme for farmers to help ease their problems,” he says.Perhaps with the elections around the corner, the apple trade will find better takers.

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