Arunachal apples losing taste due to climate change

Itanagar: Popular for its sweetness, apples produced in the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh are now gradually losing their taste and even turning sour as a result of climate change.

With the weather becoming erratic and a clear variation in temperature, snowfall and rainfall pattern being recorded, apple crops are no more getting the appropriate agro-climatic requirements, horticulturalists and climate change experts say.

Kashmiri apples are sweet because the rainfall is low. But in Arunachal, sometimes it rains very heavily which dilutes the sugar content of the crop affecting its taste, Dr Nazeer Ahmad, director of Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH) in Srinagar, told PTI.

For optimum growth and fruiting, apple trees need 100-125 cm of annual rainfall, evenly distributed during the growing season.

In the last few years, there has been an unprecedented increase in the intensity of rainfall as well as cloudbursts in the north-eastern state.

Farmers of the remote Mechuka valley in West Siang district, a few kms away from the China border, complain that 1520 years ago the apples they produced were sweet, but now the fruits taste sour.

Earlier apples used to flower only once in a year during February. Now they flower twice a year, in late March and September. The flowers that bloom in March produce fruits, while those that bloom in September do not produce any fruits, Dr Sanjeeb Bharali from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (Division of Natural Resource Management), Meghalaya said.

Apple cultivation in Arunachal Pradesh is mainly concentrated in Tawang, West Kameng and Lower Subansiri districts, though the fruit is of late being grown in West Siang and Anjaw districts too.

During 2009 -10 the state recorded a total apple production of about 10,000 tonnes.

Admitting the effect of climate change on the production of apples, Dr Ahmed said the temperate fruit also needs a temperature of 20-25 degrees C during the growing season.

But with the weather becoming unpredictable and erratic, sometimes the temperature is more than that or sometimes less. All this affects the crop as its survival is dependent completely on the weather, he said.

Dr Prasanna K Samal, scientist in-charge at the G B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development in Itanagar, said increased warming is shifting agriculture calendar while inviting new pests and crop diseases.

A research by geologist S K Patnaik of Arunachal's Rajiv Gandhi University shows that the minimum temperature in the last 100 years has been decreasing while the maximum is showing an increasing trend.

The State Action Plan on Climate Change has also projected an increase in maximum temperature by 2.2 to 2.8 degree Celsius during 2030s.

Horticulturists say with these climatic changes, the apple crop may shift to higher elevations in the Himalayan region where its chilling requirements can be met.

To counter the effects of climate change, state horticulture department officials said they have proposed to include climate-resilient oriented cultivation practices and implementation resource conservation technology like micro irrigation and rain water harvesting system.