Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness — John Keats’s description of an English autumn holds good for the season in Kashmir too. Just as the Valley’s chinar trees don the hues of fall, its orchards come alive with apple picking. It’s the busiest period of the year for orchardists across the Valley. They hire migrant labourers to pluck apples from the trees, sort and pack the produce in boxes and wooden cartons, and then transport them to nodal wholesale markets. Beginning September till November, the orchards of Kashmir supply apples to mandis across India. Trucks roll into the Union Territory from states as far as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The vehicles leave the Valley with several varieties of apple. The four most prominent ones are ‘delicious’, ‘ambri’, ‘chamura’ and ‘maharaji’.
However, the revocation of Article 370 on August 5, 2019, and the resultant shutdown of Kashmir crippled this supply-and-distribution chain last year.
The year 2020, too, has been harsh on Kashmir.
The all-India lockdown due to the novel coronavirus pandemic imposed a set of new guidelines and restrictions regarding interstate movements. This spelled doom for the traders, who haven’t stopped counting the losses from last year.
The impact of the lockdown is also a concern for Kashmir’s walnut growers. The Kashmiri walnut has a huge market even outside India. The superfood is exported to more than 20 countries. Workers remove a green covering by hand before the walnut is dried in the sun.
Text and photos by Nissar Ahmad
Handiwork: A fruit grower in Baramulla district sprays pesticide in his orchard. The exodus of migrant labourers during the first phase of the lockdown has affected work distribution in farms and orchards in Kashmir
Good apple, bad luck: The sale of apples has been dismal since August 2019, in the wake of security restrictions that affected interstate movement. Things became worse with the nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic
Tough nut: A farm hand in Anantnag district holds up a bunch of walnuts she is about to peel and dry in the sun. The political strife in Kashmir has had an adverse effect on its walnut industry, too
Get to the kernel: The Kashmiri walnut is bread-and-butter for thousands of growers and their employees. However, delays caused by the restrictions on vehicle movement have affected the arrival of the superfood in the domestic market
Under the autumn sun: A walnut cultivator sorts his produce in Anantnag district