Friday, March 28, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Fruit trees bear the brunt of harsh winter
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Chohal (Hoshiarpur), March 27
In a major blow to environment of the greenbelt of this area more than 60,000 matured fruit trees have completely got damaged due to extreme cold conditions that prevailed during the last phase of winter this year.

Besides causing huge losses to fruit-growing farmers, the weather conditions have also led to drying up of thousands of sturdy forest trees like neem all over the Doaba region, which has traditionally been considered to be a frost-free area of the state.

The quantum of damage, which is being assessed by the Punjab Horticulture Department, could be much more than is known at present, as experts have observed surfacing of damage indications such as onset of either hindered or complete lack of sprouting in these trees these days.

Interestingly, since severe damage has been caused to Punjab Agriculture University’s recommended fruit varieties such as mango, litchi and guava for farmers of lower Shivalik hills, the Punjab Horticulture Department has recommended to the PAU authorities to reassess the fruit crop cycle for the area, which has increasingly been falling prey to changing weather conditions — possibly due to dwindling ground water table and global warming.

A tour by The Tribune team revealed that 25 to 100 per cent of damage was caused to fruit trees falling in certain pockets of the hills — from Chohal to Garhshankar — and in villages such as Mehlanwala, Mangrowal, Dholbaha, Malot, Takhni, Kapat, Thathla, Jandiala, Patehrian, Harjiana, Bahadurpur near Hoshiarpur and Kantian — the areas which were also famous for delicious “desi” variety of mango, also called “Tapka Amb” in local parlance. Since damage has been cent per cent in certain areas, a large number of farmers were planning to chop off the dried-up trees, some of which were of age ranging between 25 to 45.

“I am forced to cut of mango trees from 7 acres of my orchard,” said Anurag Sood, a Hoshiarpur-based farmer and owner of a mango orchard at Bahadurpur village. Similarly, Rohit Puri of this village said he was planning to chop all 336 mango trees from his 15-year-old orchard. “Last year, since we did direct marketing, we made a profit of Rs 36,000 per acre. But the circumstances have forced us to take the harsh decision this year,” said Mr Puri.

Experts at the Hoshiarpur-based weather observatory of the Horticulture Department observed that the severe harm was caused by an unprecedented and long spell of cold, fog and low temperature, which even touched -2°C on January 15 and 19. This led to the accumulation of water on leaves through process of condensation, which, in turn, led to repeated freezing for about 15 days, causing severe damage to plants. “We have never observed such extreme weather conditions during the past 20 years,” said Dr Gurkanwal Singh Deputy Director of the Horticulture Department.

“Most of the loss was due to complete lack of photosynthesis in plants from January 10 to 25, which weakened the plants. If this was not enough, temperature suddenly rose from -02°C on January 25 to 6.2°C on January 26,” said Dr Gurkanwal Singh. He said a detailed report regarding freak weather conditions and their after-effects have already been shot off to the department. “We are assessing the loss in terms on money. There is a possibility that some trees may partly start sprouting but this might get damaged for loss of the root-level balance, particularly, during forthcoming summers,” he said.

Dr Avtaar Singh, nodal officer for mango, said if such weather conditions prevailed in future, there would be no alternative with farmers except to go in for fruits such as citrus varieties, peach and “naakh”, which could bear extreme fluctuations of temperature.

According to experts, besides financial loss to farmers, the damage to such a large number of trees could cause irreparable loss to the ecology of the area, which was known for the highest density of trees in Punjab. “The biggest loss would be the inability of such a large number of trees to pump oxygen into air,” said Mr Naresh Gulati, a Jalandhar-based farm expert.

Investigations also revealed that though there was no sign of damage to fruit trees in the Talwara and Mukerian belts, a large number of neem plants had succumbed to extreme cold and got damaged in the entire Doaba region of Punjab.


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