Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
We set out to travel across Himachal Pradesh to eat some local food and immerse ourselves in its culture, but then we stumbled upon the story of how the biggest crisis of our times is affecting those who live at the very heart of it — climate change and its impact on the farmers who depend on it.
Our first stop was Narkanda where we met a young farmer with a scientific bent of mind who introduced us to the challenges that farmers are facing in the mountains. You can read our first story here.
An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away? Not Anymore
After meeting Jaidev, we met Shobha at Thanedar, a farmer who grows apples, cherries, plums, and apricots in her orchards.
"I've been doing this since the beginning, since we were children."
Being a farmer for years, Shobha understood the needs of her orchard. The two most important ones? The sun and the rain, she says. These two are absolutely essential for Shobha's orchards, and while most people take them for granted, they are not as abundant anymore. Things are changing rapidly for the worse.
"During our childhood—I was born in 1953— what we felt and observed was that during December, it had to snow, and the snow would fall no matter what. It had a fixed date, that is, after the 25th of December, snowfall will absolutely happen," explained Shobha's husband.
Now, however, even January goes by and it doesn't snow, and even if it does, it is merely four to six inches.
"And now even the summer heat is excessive. Over here, the temperature never used to rise beyond 30°C. This time, it crossed that mark. It has been very hot. Even the monsoons have become abnormal. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn't," he added.
He joked that doctors may have to modify the well-known proverb, an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
"Not anymore. The apples can't do that anymore," Shobha's husband said with a sad smile.
Changing Climate, Plumetting Profits
For farming families like Shobha's, the impact of climate change means lesser and lesser earnings with each passing year. They are progressively becoming poorer.
"We used to harvest 800-900 crates of apples per year. Now the number has reduced. Production has decreased," lamented Shobha's husband.
After all, there is a dearth of what's needed and an excess of what is not. What Himachali farmers really dread, however, are the hailstorms. And saving their orchards from them costs a lot.
"15 years ago we did not require a lot of nets. But now, because of intense hail storms, it has become mandatory to add these nets in a lot of areas. It's become a necessity that costs lakhs. It's not a cheap affair. The nets cost 25-30,000 each."
As input costs for these farmers have shot up, profits have plummeted. Shobha admits that while farming has become very expensive, profits have not increased in equal proportions.
"In the time to come, our future seems very dark to us," said Shobha's husband.
What does this dark future look like? To seek some answers, we went to Himachal's Solan district.
If Even the Scientists Can’t Grow Fruits on Trees, Who Can?
In Solan, we met Deepak Singha, a farmer who realised that traditional knowledge, in the face of climate change, was not really working for the farming community. He has been urging farmers to innovate and adapt.
Deepak decided to show us the Krishi Vigyan Kendra or KVK in Solan, an important venue for agri-innovation in the state. Several farmers come here to understand what they are doing wrong and what techniques they can adopt.
It was the place where Climate change is being fought in laboratories. Or so we thought.
Showing us around in KVK in Kanda Ghat, Singha said, "Look at this tree. I don’t see any fruit on this tree. I mean, just imagine, these are scientists that are out there. If the scientists can not produce fruit on this tree… I don’t even blame the scientists, this is all about climate change."
Ramesh, a farmer from Bilaspur, who had been pushed into debt by rising temperatures, had to sell his land to pay it. "It is a problem caused by climate change. Now in Bilaspur, we have to deal with heatwaves, and the temperatures have gone up to 50°C," he explained.
The temperature rise has been happening since 1997, Ramesh said pointedly. "Our last litchi harvest was in 1997. Two quintal per tree was the produce. Taking care of a litchi tree is like raising a child, even more difficult."
Talking about input costs, he said that he sold maize for Rs 1,31,000. "When we did our calculations, our total input cost was Rs 1,11,000. I have it written down, I write it down everyday. So Rs 20,000 is all that was left. How will this sustain me and my family?"
The Journey of Stone Fruits in Himachal Pradesh
Deepak Singha, a man who knows everything about stone fruits, told us a story about the 50 year journey of the fruit economy of Himachal.
"To take us 50 years back, apples would do very well at about 6,000 feet. Now at 3,000 feet, the stone fruits are not performing the way they should be performing, because temperatures have moved up, so there is a climate change. One degree celsius rise in temperature has changed the fruit economy and has moved us up from 3,500 ft to 4,500 ft."
This one degree rise in temperature may not matter to us. For farmers, however, this was a source of immense pain and poverty.
"We farmers feel it more, because it impacts our livelihood. Someone living in the city, he gets a job, what has he got to do with climate? It doesn’t make a difference to him," he asserted.
He explained that because the climate is getting so distorted, the input cost in terms of drip irrigation and water management has increased. Even the production per tree has reduced.
"So the climate has impacted not only the productivity per tree but also impacted the input cost. So what has happened is, some farmers are now calculating that if they are earning Rs 100, they are spending Rs 120. For how long can we go forward lke this?"
Policy Makers Are Still Denying Climate Change
Deepak told us that while the lived realities of these farmers in the mountains make climate change an undeniable fact, the policy makers still refuse to recognise it and act on it.
"As far as the policy makers are concerned they are not bothered. There is no policy," said Deepak. "They are in denial because they are sitting in their offices on chairs. They don’t understand the ground level truth. When we try to explain the truth, they do not want to recognise it."
When asked what is the worst case scenario that we are looking at for farmers in the next ten years, Deepak said, "if the government does not have policy, then let me tell you, farmers have no future."
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