Apple Farming in Shimla District. Story of Rapid Economic Prosperity and Deforestation.

Apple Farming in Shimla District. (sanjay austa austa)


Photo-essay and story for Mint-WSJ (sep 2012)


 Just a few decades  ago the farmers of this mountainous  region in Shimla District in Himachal hardly had any money . They grew  wheat, maize, potatoes and herded livestock which sustained them though long harsh winters. Today there are no penniless farmers here. Having replaced their traditional crops with apple orchards, they have all become rich horticulturists catapulting the economy of this region to astronomical heights.

Kairi Panchayat here in Kotkhai Tehsil , once had the  highest per-capita income among all rural 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.Depending on the crop each year, the title of ‘highest per-capita income village’ keeps coming back to one or another Panchayat in this Jubbal-Kotkhai region of Shimla District.   Baghi- Ratnari Panchayat , not far from Kairi, has been graced with the title  too and continues to lead in high apple production.

But it was not so easy to introduce the idea of replacing tradition crops with apple trees. In the early 1920’s when Samuel Stokes – the first American Gandhian- tried to talk the farmers here into planting apple saplings he was ridiculed and chased away. What will we eat for food ? Apples? We need to grow food he was summarily told.

 (sanjay austa austa)

Apple Orchard House in Shimla District.

However he convinced a small band of farmers in Kotgarh in Kumarsain tehsil,  to join him in planting the apple saplings he had brought from America. In a few years these farmers began to harvest the apples crop for profit. Other Kotgarh residents gradually followed suit making Kotgarh the most economically developed region in Himachal.

Other villages followed Kotgarh’s example and planted apple trees. Today any village with an altitude of 1600 meters and above , cultivate apple orchards in Himachal Pradesh.

The apple growers no longer live in a village in  traditional  mud and wood house clusters. Most of them  have moved out and built lavish farmhouses in the middle of their orchards lending the Jubbal – Kotkhai region  a look of a beautiful English countryside.  Expensive  4WD’s park behind the high walls of these houses and orchardists check for weather forecasts on their iPads and iPhones. Their children study in expensive boarding schools and little expense is spared during any social occasion like marriage or a village ritual.

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

However there is also a downside. The sudden gold rush has had the orchardists encroach into the forests where they have cut trees to plant apple trees. This has gone unchecked for so many years that now the repercussions of deforestation are visiting the orchardists. For a good yield the apple plant should have at least 1000 hours of chilling 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, HP.

Though the younger generation of orchardist are all well educated , deep rooted tradition beliefs prevail over commonsensical environmental awareness.  They would rather slaughter  a goat to the local Gods for good weather than plant trees in their depleting forests.

‘’Forests are being destroyed due to the negligence of the Forest department. They are simply doing nothing . The forest department is hand and glove with the encroachers’’ , says Ravinder Chauhan an apple orchardists who runs a NGO, Environment Protection Society of Himachal in Kairi.

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

An old village with old village houses in Kothkhai District.

Pariyavaran Sangrakshak Samiti is another 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, 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.

If the encroachments into the forests don’t stop, it will only be a matter of time before the orchardists here   kill the golden goose that laid the golden eggs.

Sanjay Austa is a photojournalist and writer based in New Delhi.

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




9 Responses to “Apple Farming in Shimla District. Story of Rapid Economic Prosperity and Deforestation.”

  1. Nitin Chauhan says:

    This article is as honest in its content as it is beautiful in its style. I can vouch for the truth that unfolds in this writing with an insiders privilege to the milieu that this story is concerned with. What fascinates me most is that the voice that has voiced the issue of deforestation here springs from the very setting of the subject of this essay. Undoubtedly, it is a brave and an honestly concerned voice. I’m waiting to see how it is responded to. It was a treat reading this one.

  2. Purushothama Rao.Veladi says:

    Sanjay Austa Jee, Maine pichle 5 saal se Apple farmers ke saat kaam karrahahoo, aap ne jo mudda bataya bahoot sochneki jaroorat hai, saat saat ye haki farmers zaroorat se bhi zaada khaad[chemical fertilizers]daalke,bahoot fungisides spray karke poori tarhah zameen aur paryavaranku poori tarhah barbaad karrahe. Koi bhi kisan ya nahi sochte ooski soil me kya kya nutrients available hai, kya nahi hai.Abhi tak koi bhi poori 17 elements ka BHOO PARIKSHAN nahi karvaya, saathi Himachal ke kisan keliye eki beemaari khatarnaak banchuka lekin ooski baari me koi nahi sochte,jithna bakri ka BALIDAAN chedenka sochte. Aaaj H.P. ki total Apple Orchades ROOTROT,COLLARROT,WOOLI APPLE APHED,ROOT BORER ki beemaarion se bhari padi hai, agar ies bimaariku BIO CONTROL AGENTS [living bacteria,fungus] se control karneki koshish nahi kiyato aap ke state se aanevaale 10-15 saal me Apple nahi bachinge.Aap ies baat pe bhi apna kisanon ku JAAGRUT karneki prayaas kariye, iskeliye maine mere taraf se aap ku poori sahayata deneku tayar hoo.

  3. Gaurav Chauhan says:

    I followed you post & concerns regarding environment damage due to apple farming. I myself hail from Shimla District.
    People are caught in the trap of fertilizers & pesticides. Traditional thinking is Apple farming can’t be done without these.
    But there are folks who have successfully produced apples without using the chemicals.
    Have you heard of Japanese miracle man -Akinori Kimura. Please visit the blog by Yoko Ono –
    Also search for another Japanese fellow – Masanobu Fukuoka who followed Zen way of practising farming in tune with nature.
    If interested I could provide you with more reading material.
    Please help spread the word around. Its already too late.

  4. lokinder thakur says:

    apple farming in shimla distt.

  5. thakur sanjay says:

    I too am concerned with your cause sir. People here are just planting apples where ever they want. Infact people from forest department and that too on higher posts , they are setting examples by encroaching forest area. People do what shamans say them to. They slaughter sheeps and do havans. But the core problem is created by these people only. People , the sleeping concerned departments and our govt, needs to do something asap. Infact our current ruling party congress, which issued a menifesto talked about everything but deforestation. They are overwhelmed with increased production but ignores the reason and the outcome behind it. Its high time… Wake up !!

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