The hail stones have done the damage as usual, but the much promised anti hail guns for last two and a half years are yet to be seen and installed in ridges of apple growing belt of Shimla, Kullu, Mandi and Kinnaur districts. It’s been almost three years now since the inception of very idea of installing Anti Hail Guns in apple growing areas, but not much concrete has been done by the Govt in this regard. At first instance the need for anti hail guns in fruit zone is dire but their technical capability to avert the freakish phenomenon of hails is doubted by many.
Looking at the past experiences across the globe in countries like USA, China, Netherlands, Israel, Mexico etc. there is a 50-50 chance of successfully averting the wrath of hailstones. As per technical details available the acetylene based hail guns supported by the web of radars, are most effective if fired at least 20-30 minute before the expected time of hail shower. The area covered by each gun is is approximately 80-90 hectares i.e. within a radius of about 500 meters.
One tends to question the effectiveness of these anti-hail guns in respect of rapid and unexpected climate change process where extremes are growing for the worst with lesser unexpected rains and above normal temperature deviations (8-9 degrees) during summers in many parts of the hill state. To anyone’s surprise Shimla broke its 170 years’ record of highest temperature this May by touching 32.4°C mark. Lower and upper areas of the state has simmered alike year after year for last two decade now.
Perhaps a quick analysis of climatic phenomenon for last 15-20 years in the hill state and especially of Shimla will clear the idea about what actually is happening in apple producing belt. It is interesting to study the changing precipitation pattern at state level but unfortunately sufficient and relevant temporal data in not readily available.
The relation of snowfall, rainfall and annual apple production has a direct correlation. It can be seen from the graph that the snowfall in 1990 has been above normal and between 1991 and 2000 the annual average snowfall has been almost consistent throughout, varying from 45mm to 180mm. Beyond 2001 there have been extreme variations with few years noticing no snow or very less snowfall. These extremes coincide with the drought and rain deficient years and consequent fall and rise in apple production throughout.
(Source: State statistical handbook and Weather Monitoring Station, Shimla)
Again, years 2003-06 has seen a good spell of snowfall and the apple production too has seen a consistent growth for these four years. But in year 2007 the snowfall failed and the corresponding apple production too has seen a downfall than the previous years. In year 2008 again the snowfall (chilling hours) was fairly good, although below average but the crop again saw an increased output. Year 2009 was a draught hit year and the consequent apple production with initial official projection of crossing previous year’s mark of 592 thousand metric tonnes fell to 280 thousand metric tonnes. This year (2010), the apple production is pegged at 500 thousand metric tonnes (2.5 crore boxes) but already a number of hail spells across the apple belt of state has already taken its toll on 60-70% crop.
It is interesting to observe that as per the official records on apple production from year 2000 to 2009 there has been a negligible change in the corresponding land area under apple plantation. One could ask that how can apple production with mostly aging rootstock and same crop area increase by about 75%? One, it could be due to intensive dependence on fertilizers, which is true, but more apt reason I think is the increase in unregistered land under apple crop i.e. the encroachments of forest area in upper reaches of apple growing belts. These unregistered tracts are influential in changing the apple production figures at state level. No wonder, the climatic variations are bound to happen with rampant scraping of thousands of hectares of valuable forest. Year after years the Forest Department reports increase in the net area under forest cover on papers, where as the ground reality speaks for the contrary.
Govt. is looking forward to buy about 40 guns and 4 radars to operate an umbrella to protect the fruit belt of the state. However, the actual effective coverage provided by each gun is about 80-90 hectares i.e. roughly within a radius of about 500m. Going by these figures, 40 guns will roughly cover an area of about 3500-4000 hectares, whereas the total registered area under apple crop in the state is about 90,000 hectares, thus the initial protection will be provided only for 4.5% area under the apple crop with 50-50 chances of its success. Knowing that the guns are most effective when installed at the higher reaches i.e. between 2500-4000 meters and the apple farms within these altitudes are mostly encroached forest area, so in a way government is indirectly paying to protect the encroachers or the real culprits of local climate change.
What a tragedy!!
Govt. on the other hand is sitting blindfold on the issue of deficient rainfall and the consequent fall in water table across the state. If one consider rainfall pattern in Shimla, in last 10 years except for year 2006 which was a rain surplus year (with 6% above normal rainfall) rest all nine years have been rain deficient, varying from 10% to 50% below normal. Even year 2009 was a rain deficient year receiving about 36% below normal rainfall. These patterns in over all rainfall figures are likely to see more declines in years to come. But are we prepared for the same? A big NO. Apart from the deficient rains a number of development projects like the numerous road being carved out to reach one’s doorstep, which in a way has become an ill fated fad in hills and hundreds of mini-micro and mega hydroelectric projects thriving on dynamite blasts has also contributed to the downfall of water table and drying of natural water springs in apple growing belt.
The need of the hour is not just the anti hail guns but also the cloud seeding technology to bring in timely rainfalls and snowfall to maintain the moisture content of the soil in apple producing belts. Government need to look for a better and inclusive 2-in-1 technology to prepare for the inclement extreme conditions. Cloud seeding involves spraying chemicals into the air like silver iodide which is the primary silver iodide-based ice-nucleating complexes which causes moisture particles to expand, forming drops of rain that fall to the ground. It can increase the annual precipitation by about 10% is designed and implemented in a scientific way. Various researches conducted across globe have shown a negligible or no environmentally harmful effect arising out of cloud seeding.
The cloud seeding is intended to augment rainfall and snowfall in draught prone and rain deficient areas, thus providing sufficient water for various uses such as hydroelectric power generation, irrigation, domestic and industrial usages etc along with replenishing of water table. The extensive deforestation, increase in pollution and subsequent increase in global warming complemented by the increase in area under fruit production, especially apple and the rapid population growth and urbanisation in Himachal Pradesh and neighbouring states will cause water demands to regularly outstrip water supplies in the near future, especially during inevitable droughts. In countries like USA, Netherlands, China, Israel, China etc the Cloud Seeding has been conducted for last few decades.
Along with the purchase and installation of anti-hail guns, Himachal government needs to invest in the cloud seeding technology in order to sustain and prolong the future of fruit and vegetable farming in the state.