Trouble is brewing for tea growers, orchardists and other farmers in rain-deficient Himachal Pradesh as agriculture is largely rain-fed. With over 70 per cent deficiency in rainfall and scanty snow witnessed since January, the farmers are suffering severe crop failure in terms of both quality and quantity. The dry weather has wilted the famous tea leaves in the Kangra valley, impacting the production by a whopping 75 per cent. In the Kullu valley, the apple producers are worried that owing to the inadequate amount of chilling time, their fruit of labour would be hit. Pear and cherry produce is similarly dependent upon chilling hours. Farmers in Bilaspur district have also been affected by the drought-like conditions as a 30-40 per cent reduction in wheat yield is feared because the crop is stunted. Cattle are being fed wheat as there is shortage of fodder in some areas. Earlier, the vegetable farmers of Solan faced tough times as their yield was reduced to half.
This distressing situation calls for an urgent assessment of the losses suffered by the farming community. The government must look into their specific problems and weigh the horticulturists’ demand for declaration of drought and compensate them accordingly. The Kangra tea planters, who are prohibited from shifting to other crops under the law of the land, have once again raised the issue of the viability of their estates. They want subsidy for installing tubewells and drip irrigation systems to protect their plantations and a separate government policy to promote their product so as to regain the lost glory of the internationally famous Kangra tea.
At the same time, the erratic weather pattern seen in the Himalayas for some years underscores the significance of climate change. The importance of ramping up water harvesting structures and forestation drives to check the rising temperatures cannot be emphasised enough. It is a matter of concern that the state faces a tough summer as low rainfall has exacerbated the water crisis. The recharging of water bodies has been adversely affected and hundreds of water supply sources are on the brink of drying up. These alarm bells cannot be ignored.