Uttarakhand farmers eager to go beyond apple growing

Dec 22, 2018

With double impact of climatic variations and human interference has further pushed traditional Uttarakhand’s farmers to the wall with no space to go beyond. They are adapting to change their view of agriculture and fruit growing by embracing new crops and livelihoods.

 Anil Chand (28) is a well known man in the village of Jadipani in Tehri Garhwal. He wants to bring a thought of change in farming in his village. He tries to explain the famers that how apple trees just don’t seem to be sprouting well as yield used to be and why cultivating peach seems to the only solution. Why growing peas from February to November and cabbages from November to March seems a better idea.

“The climate here, like in most places is changing and changing fast. We have to move according to this change. I try and convince as many farmers as I can to understand this change and adapt. Of course it is not always easy but yes, even if two get convinced and change, the next year, the ones who didn’t, see the crop and want to change the sowing time or think of changing the crop,” said Anil.

Once popular as the Mussoorie-Chamba fruit belt — Jadipani — is facing a tough and harsh challenge. Along with the famous apple, other crops such as vegetables have also taken a hit due to climatic change.

Working with Himmothan, an NGO initiated by the Tata Trusts in 2001, Anil works for the betterment of several villages in Uttarakhand. The NGO is rigorously working to help farmers adapt to these changes, which is crucial for survival.

A local, Anjana Negi seems happy for the timely decision of changes. “Not only did we get a good crop of cabbage because of early sowing but also got more output of cabbages as we were instructed to try row- sowing. This method is different from previous sowing where we generally scattered the seeds. Another change is trying a new crop — spring onions.  My mother-in-law is convinced they won’t grow. But they seem to be doing okay as of now. I am keeping my fingers crossed,” she smiled.

The big shift has been seen in the fruits orchards. The apple trees have not yielded good enough apples but a number of village farmers have tried moving to peaches. A local farmer said, “It was an awful sight to see my apple trees dry up over the years. The suggestion to try peach came as a saviour,” he beamed showing his peach trees like a proud parent.

Far from present a few years back condition was not so rosy as entire belt was known for apples, khubani (peaches), chulu (wild peach), and alubukhara (apricot), with several feet of snowfall, the fruits grew sweeter.

“Those days of snow are far gone. We saw our trees dry up and our incomes following them. Those were difficult times. We just didn’t know what to do. Fruits are what we’d planted for years and here we were, clueless of how else we’d survive,” says Vinod Singh Bhandari, from a group of men.

 “It was a decade back. They were experts from Auli and they went around telling farmers how to grow different things. And that’s when they told us to start growing vegetables as the weather was changing in our village, like in several other villages; that we should try growing cauliflower, cabbage, coriander and rai (a variety of green vegetable). Of course we were apprehensive but we weren’t gaining anything from our fruits anyway,” said Usha Rani Kamdi, the oldest local.

It started with a few farmers who thought it was worth taking a risk. “We had nothing to lose, did we? The snowfall was erratic; a traditional water source was not flowing as well as it did.  We had to do something if we wanted to be living happily with our families in the village. The other option was to just go to the cities looking for odd jobs. I decided to try growing what the expert team had suggested,” said 35-year-old Rajeshwari Devi.

After few months of patiently waiting, the cauliflowers grew to a perfect size and the cabbage became tightly plump, other farmers felt inspired. And this sight of blooming vegetables started a new era of a beautiful change to the village of Badgaon, today known as one of best vegetable suppliers in the area.

“Another change that has turned the life around for most families is the village’s shift towards dairy farming. Each family has one if not more cows. Since irrigation water was becoming an issue, the people started growing grass for the cattle. And since they are eating well, they are giving milk. We are selling this milk at Rs.35-40 per litre. These animals have given us a fresh lease of life”, said a happy farmer.

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