India Interior

The apple of Kiari’s eye

Sarita Brara | Updated on January 11, 2018

Himachal’s pick Apple farmers enjoy enviable living standards

Nestled in prosperity Kiari, in Shimla district sarita brara

The Himachal village, well-known for its high per capita income, gets ready to reap a rich harvest

Situated atop a hill in Jubbal-Kotkhai block, in Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, is the picturesque village Kiari. At one time this gram panchayat boasted the highest per capita income in the State and was even named among the 10 richest villages in Asia. Today, with the new generation migrating to towns and the impact of climate change, things are not the same, says orchardist Sushil Kumar Chauhan, a former head of the village panchayat.

“It was my grandfather Naki Ram Chauhan who brought apple saplings here in the mid-1930s from Kotgarh, where apple cultivation was first introduced. Although dissuaded by his brother, my grandfather through his perseverance and toil raised a nursery of this fruit, which was new to the people at that time. Now, of course, all households in Kiari earn our bread and butter from growing apples.”

Apple cultivation has brought about a sea change in the living standard of lakhs of farmers and is an important part of Himachal Pradesh’s economy. And in less than a month it will again be time to literally reap the fruits of the hard work put in round the year. The apple growers in Kiari, as in other parts of Upper Shimla, are busy spraying the fruit-laden trees. Hundreds of Nepali farmhands migrate here to earn daily wages during the harvest time.

Kiari may not be classified as the richest village currently, but some apple growers here command an annual income of nearly ₹50 lakh. Even the Kiari gram panchayat enjoys an annual income of ₹20-25 lakh, says panchayat head Harpal Singh.

Orchards of millionaires

The apple belt in the State is, in fact, made up of millionaire families. And though they may live in villages, their living standard can prove enviable for those living in towns and cities. Their children often study in expensive boarding schools and other institutions in Shimla, Chandigarh or other places.

While climate change has impacted the apple produce, Sanjay Kumar, another grower from Kiari, says the cultivators are opting for hybrid high-yielding varieties to offset the impact and increase fruit production.

Despite the high earnings and rise in living standard, the people here have retained their distinct cultural identity and simplicity. There is no sign of ostentation. “Time was when nobody would lock their houses in the village,” says Narinder Chauhan, the State Chief Information Commissioner, who belongs to Kiari village. Even today the people are deeply religious and greatly revere their deities, he says. However, the barbaric rape and murder of a school girl just 30 km from Kiari this month has sent shock waves across the State. The people fervently hope that such a heinous crime will never revisit this otherwise tranquil hilly region.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on July 14, 2017

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