Apple Farming in Himachal: A Bitter-Sweet Fruit


Harvesting of apples in an orchard in Kotkhai - Shimla (sanjay austa austa)

Apple harvest time in an orchard in Shimla District.

The story first appeared in the Bangkok Post. Oct 2013

At the turn of the 20th century an American travelled to a remote mountain region  in  Himachal Pradesh and tried to propagate a strange idea. He told the farmers  to plant apples trees instead of the traditional wheat  and maize they had been growing for centuries. He was ridiculed and chased   away.  “What will we eat for food? Apples?”, they told him.

The man was stubborn,  after all he was Mahatma Gandhi’s disciple (his first American)  and like his Guru he decided to stick it out. He bought a plot of land in Kotgarh village, in Shimla district and planted apple saplings he had  got with him from America. He managed to convince a few families in his neighborhood  to do the same. In a few years the apple plants bore fruits and these families began to market the fruit for profit.  It fetched them good money and they prospered.  Seeing their success,  others in Kotgarh began to plant  apple trees too and the village  as a whole began to prosper. They began to live well;  wear better clothes, eat better food, built bigger houses and send their children to expensive boarding schools.

In a matter of few decades everyone in Himachal at an altitude of 1500meters and above  began to plant apple trees and reap the benefits. Today, apple farming is by far the most economically viable option for farmers in Himachal.

 (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Apple Harvest in Shimla District, Himachal

The American was Samuel Stokes and when he first set foot in the hills of Himachal he was stuck by the similarity of weather here to   the apple growing regions of America.  Like most  do-gooder Westerners he had come as a  proselytizing Christian but he was so taken in by the simple lives of the Himachali’s that he got converted to their ways instead. He changed his name to Satyanand Stokes, married a local girl and settled in Kotgarh.

At the time when Samuel Stokes tried to introduce the idea of apples in these isolated Himachali villages, the villagers  hardly had any money or any use for it. They lived simple self-sustained lives depending on  livestock,   and agriculture. Money was needed only for two things- tobacco and salt. Both luxuries for  majority of the people.

But over the  decades apples have transformed the lives of the apple growing community completely. The apple growers no longer live in villages in  traditional  mud and wood houses. Most of them now live in lavish farmhouses  in the middle of their orchards reminiscent  of   English countryside than a rural Indian setting. Expensive 4WD’s park behind high walls  and orchardists check for weather forecasts on iPads and iPhones. Their children study in expensive boarding schools and little expense is spared during any social occasions like marriages or  village rituals.

Kairi Panchayat here in Shimla District, once had the  highest per-capita income among all  villages in the country.  ‘’Our banks  in Kairi had the highest deposits among any rural bank in India’’, says Shiv Prakash Bhimta ,a resident apple grower here.

 (sanjay austa austa)

An apple orchards house in Shimla District, Himachal

Baghi- Ratnari Panchayat , not far from Kairi, has been graced with the title  too and continues to be a leading Panchayat with highest apple production.

However like most gold-rush  bonanzas the apple story   also has a downside. The rag-to-riches trajectory of the apple farming has had the orchardists encroach  the forests. Deodar and pine forests are being rampantly cut  to plant apple trees. This has gone unchecked for so many years that the repercussions of deforestation are now  visiting the orchardists.  For a good yield the apple plant should have at least 1000 chilling hours in winters. But because of deforestation it is snowing less and less each year. ‘’Deforestation had changed the weather pattern in the region. The rainfall is erratic and  hailstorms  are more frequent now than ever”, says Dr. Inder Mohan a scientist at DR. Y.P. S Parmar University of Horticultural and Forestry in Shimla.

Though the younger generation of orchardists are all well educated , deep rooted tradition beliefs prevail over commonsensical environment issues. They would rather butcher a goat to the local Gods for good weather than plant trees in their denuded  forests.

 (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Grading for size, color and quality in a warehouse in Shimla District, Himachal

Pariyavaran Sangrakshak Samiti is a  grassroots level organization being run by the local orchardists here in Kairi village.   ‘’The Forest Department is doing everything except saving the forests. Therefore there is a dire need for people like us to build awareness about environmental issues among the orchardists and show how its going to impact our future. Every apple orchardist should be concerned about it’’, says Digvijay Singh Chauhan, President of the Samiti.

Following up on a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) the State High Court had given directions for the registration of FIR’s and eviction of encroachers who had occupied more than 10 bighas of  forest land in Himachal.  The court had set the first deadline for June 19, 2011 to carry out the evictions but the state Forest Department  failed to honor this as well as all subsequent deadlines set for it.  They have also not been able to register the FIR’s against the encroachers.

The Forest Department lays  the blame on the Revenue Department’s door.

‘’ The demarcation ( of encroached land) is to be done by the Revenue Department before we do the evictions. But the Revenue Department did not have sufficient staff to do the demarcations.  Therefore we had to ask for extensions to carry out the evictions’’, Says R. K. Gupta  Principal Chief Conservator of Forests – Department of Forests. HP.

The apple orchardists have so far had a good run. But if  the encroachments into the forests don’t stop, it will only be a matter of time before they  kill the golden goose that laid the golden eggs.

View from the Barn Door, Apple Orchards, Himachal (sanjay austa austa)

View from the Barn Door, Apple Orchards in Snow, Himachal


 (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Golden Apples have no market and are grown only for pollination, Himachal Pradesh.


Havesting of apples in an orchard in Himachal Predesh. Kothkhai (sanjay austa austa)

Havesting of apples in an orchard in Himachal Pradesh.


Such beautiful meadows and glades are all across the apple region of Himachal. Here a small cowherd was minding a bunch of village cows. (sanjay austa austa)

A glade in a deodar forest. Forests like these are dwindling fast in the area, Shimla District.

This is the view from my orchard of the village on the hill opposite. (sanjay austa austa)

The old village looked like this. Very few orchardists in Shimla district  live in the villages now. They have their houses in their orchards.


Apple Tree Pruning in winters, Himachal Pradesh. (sanjay austa austa)

Apple Tree Pruning in winters, Himachal Pradesh.


 (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Loading a truck  with apple boxes, Shimla District. Himachal

Variegated Laughingthrush. We don't see too many of them but a short respite from the rains today brought them out. Baghi- Ratnari. Himachal Pradesh (sanjay austa      sanjayausta@gmail.)

Variegated Laughingthrush. The Orchards are a home to a variety of exotic Himalayan Birds.


A small boy in an apple orchard eating apples. (sanjay austa austa)

Apple Orchards, Himachal Pradesh.

18 Responses to “Apple Farming in Himachal: A Bitter-Sweet Fruit”

  1. Varadarajan Seshamani says:

    Beautiful photographs
    And information that I did not know!

  2. Mohan Vivek says:

    Also conversions…

  3. Aamit Khanna says:

    nice story sanjay

  4. Mukul Sheoproy says:

    Great reportage Sanjay! I knew about Stokes, and his contribution to prosperity in Himachal, from my trip to Thanedar but didn’t know about the downside of the growth of apple orchards. And as always the pictures were gorgeous!

  5. Lisa Beth Aronson says:

    I am very happy you posted this…always wondered

  6. Deval Kartik says:

    A very informative and insightful write up. Thanks

  7. Karam says:

    Nice work. I hope the concerned people read and pay heed to the apple cause.

  8. JUHI says:

    Lovely Photographs and a great article. Greed leads to downfall of humanity. But very few understand this. The ravages of Uttarakhand are perfect example of this.

  9. ankur kashyap says:

    The apple orchardists have so far had a good run. But if the encroachments into the forests don’t stop, it will only be a matter of time before they kill the golden goose that laid the golden eggs.

    This is the bottomline. So apple growers please wakeup and stop being selfish !!!
    Thanks Sanjay for this arcticle.

  10. Rachna jhina says:

    I don’t think anyone in these areas is thinking ahead… They can’t cos they are so blinded by the present. Basically we have all lost our values !! That’s what has to be taught… God knows who is going to do it !? It seems too big a problem to manage n is gonna take hundreds of years to rectify…. But good!! Someone is atleast talking about it… Keep it up

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