What is Himachal famous for in India

India's apple growers in the Himalayas are feeling the effects of global warming

Towards the end of the year, the small town of Kalpa in the Indian part of the Himalaya Mountains is a sight for gods. Nestled between the snow-capped Kinnaur Kailash and the blue-green water of the Sutlej River, apple orchards radiate the golden glow of autumn.

Kalpa is located in the Kinnaur district of India's northern state of Himachal Pradesh. The region has a reputation for having the tastiest and most expensive apples in India.

In India, apples are unaffordable for some people. At an organic farmer's market in New Delhi, kinnauri apples cost 4 to 5 euros per kilo, compared to around 1.50 euros for a dozen bananas. These farmers are considered wealthy compared to the average Indian farmer.

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But since warmer temperatures and less snowfall affect apple yields, this prosperity is no longer guaranteed in the future.

Apple crops in the Himalayas usually require a certain number of cool hours with temperatures between 0-7 degrees Celsius. Due to global warming, there are fewer and fewer such cool hours in some regions.

A worker sorts apples in an orchard in the Indian town of Kalpa

"We have noticed that the frequency and amount of snowfall is decreasing. And the timing has also changed," says Satish Kumar Bhardwaj, professor of environmental science at Yashwant Singh Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan, in southern Himachal state Pradesh. "Under such conditions there is a lack of the necessary coolness that the traditional apple varieties need to form flowers and develop fruits."

Research by Bhardwaj's University shows that warming has pushed some orchards in Himachal Pradesh to higher altitudes.

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While some farmers in the lower hill regions have switched from apples to vegetables, flowers and fruits such as kiwi and pomegranate, apples thrive in Tabo, a village 3,280 meters above sea level in the cold desert valley of Spiti.

Kishore Kumar, an apple grower from Kalpa, had a good harvest this year - 3000 boxes of 26 kilograms of apples each. But not everyone was so lucky.

Apple grower and social activist Jiya Lal watches as migrant workers from Nepal climb trees in his orchard. They collect the fruits in the crowns and put them in sacks that they carry around their necks. Of its 400 trees, which are spread over about two and a half hectares, about 80 have become infected with apple scab. A disease that destroys the fruit through lesions.

"After we had no problems for decades, apple scab has returned to this area," explains Lal. "In May and June, when it is dry, it rains a lot. This has led to persistent moisture and the spread of the disease. I will not even fetch 50 percent of the usual price for the infected apples." Lal estimates that he will lose a total of around 1267 euros on this harvest. An amount that will be sorely lacking in his family's annual budget.

The town of Kalpa in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh has a reputation for tasty and expensive apples

Healthy apples from Jiya Lal's orchard in Kalpa

"The yields and income of my orchard are decreasing every year," says Sanjay Chauhan, an apple grower and former mayor of Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh. In his orchard in Kotkhai Village, Chauhan grows traditional apple varieties such as Red and Golden Delicious. They were brought to the region over 100 years ago.

"A worker who was harvesting apples in my orchard was covered in white, fluffy mealybugs - we had so many pests this year when we spray pesticides a lot," says Chauhan. "I think we will see a crisis in the apple industry in the next five years."

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Kumar, Chauhan and Lal are among the thousands of families and businesses in Himachal Pradesh who created a booming apple industry.

That year, Pritamrekha Negi, an apple grower from the village of Ribba in the Kinnaur district, lost half of her annual income. In August the leaves on their trees began to yellow and fell off much earlier than usual due to a temperature change that was unusual for the season. She only harvested 350 boxes (8,400 kilograms) instead of 800 boxes (19,200 kilograms) as in the previous year.

"Our son is going to boarding school in Delhi and we have to attack our savings to pay his school fees for the year," says Pritamrekha Negi. "Our land is full of apple trees. I never thought of growing anything else."

Farmer Jiya Lal is struggling with the apple scab disease in his orchard

Despite the danger, apple growers may still be able to achieve their usual yields - with new varieties that thrive in warmer temperatures and require less cooling.

"There is a growing demand for low-chill apple varieties," says Vikram Singh Rawat, founder of the Kalashan Nursery and Farm in the Himalayan village of Karsog.

Rawats Nursery sells low-chill apple varieties whose trunks can be planted very close together. In addition, genetically identical rhizomes onto which branches from older trees can be grafted. They came from the USA, Italy and the Netherlands.

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"Low-chill varieties can mitigate the losses caused by climate change," he says. Most of Rawat's clients include young people who have given up their urban jobs to revitalize their families' plantations using this modern method. Its best-selling varieties are Evasmi Scarlet Spur, Red Kan, and Super Chief. All varieties are either crossbreed or mutated, but none have been genetically engineered.

But not everyone is convinced of this solution. Varieties that need less coolness appear to grow faster and bear more fruit, but the trees are smaller and their lifespans are shorter. Rain alone is not enough for them to survive; they also need drip irrigation. That makes breeders like Chauhan skeptical.

"More research needs to be done on the sustainability of low-chill varieties. In the summer we had no drinking water in my village for 16 days. How could I irrigate new varieties of apple trees under such conditions?"

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