For Kashmiris, This Massive Change Is Threatening Thousands Of Livelihoods

Posted by Sajad Rasool in Environment, Staff Picks
April 3, 2017

For most of us, Climate Change is about sweating more because it’s getting hotter, raining and snowing unusually or just another debate on the radio and television.

However, for farmers in Kashmir, it’s a crisis they have to deal with every single day. For the last couple of years, Kashmir has been facing dry Chillai Kalan or snowfall in the months of February and March, which is very strange.

The fields have dried up, harvests are poorer every year, crops have become prone to several diseases caused due to this change in the climate, and it has become increasingly difficult for people to continue agriculture as their primary occupation.

Kashmiri farmers harvest rice from a field on the outskirts of Srinagar.

I have a two-acre land on which I used to do paddy cultivation earlier. But ten years ago, due to acute shortage of water, I had to turn the area into an apple orchard,” says Abdul Aziz, a resident of Budgam, carrying a tin of pesticide.

“Till a few years ago, we used to grow at least 5 tonnes of paddy on this same field. But a lot has changed now. The problem of water availability started increasing during summers. During peak summers, my field had begun drying up, so I decided to switch to apple cultivation,” explains Aziz.

Most of these areas in Budgam depend on Nallah Shaliganga for irrigation but due to the decreasing level of water in it as early as in June and July has left the farmers worried.

“Shaliganga means river of paddy,” says Merajuddin, a resident of Kaich Razgeer. Meraj had a fish farm in his two canals of land and had been earning his livelihood by selling fish in the area. “You cannot keep fish alive without water, and you cannot do such business without proper water supplies to the fish pond. I had to fill the pond up and have started construction of a house on it,” he said. Merajuddin had to quit fisheries. He does mechanical work to earn his daily bread.

“I am scared about my kids’ future. Even I have switched from maize to paddy and then again to apple orchard. This area has become prone to unpredictable hailstorms and rains,” says another farmer, Mohammad Shafi, of Bandipora of central Kashmir. Nowadays, snow has also become unpredictable, and winters are getting longer. “If the abnormal change in the Mausam (Climate) continues, I will be left jobless,” he says.

Kashmiri children walk over the snow-covered field after a brief snowfall in Srinagar, India.

The freak weather conditions have increased the chances of floods and droughts. The September 2014 floods and temperature increasing up to 20 degrees this February after 76 years has already sounded the alarm in Kashmir valley.

Muneer Ahmad, a 25-year-old youth from Ompora town of Budgam, is a frequent trekker. He said that the fragile ecosystem of Pir Panjal is at stake. With the increasing vehicular traffic, pollution levels have increased in the lush green forests of Doodhpathri, Yusmarg and other tourist places.

“Once we cross the forests of Pir Panjal and set foot on the hills, we can see the fumes, released by vehicles, rising from the woods. The increasing flow of transport should be checked, and only ponies or non-polluting vehicles should be allowed,” says Ahmad.

People depend on farm produce as raw materials. When the harvest is less, crop prices go up. Herders find it difficult to afford hay for their cattle, and the production of milk is affected.

Some of the farmers in the adjoining areas of Budgam have leased their agricultural land out to the brick kiln owners who pollute the region even more.

“There is no proper regularisation of brick kilns in our area. A large number of brick kilns are coming up. Instead of making improving irrigation to our land, authorities are encouraging brick kiln owners by providing them loans and subsidies. These kilns are contributing more to the climate change,” says Aijaz Ahmad of Ichgam village of Budgam.

According to a 2013 official document, there are 200 brick kilns in Budgam district, and some of them are running illegally. The price is being paid by the hapless farmers and common people of Kashmir who are facing climate change and are forced to give up their traditional occupation.

A Kashmiri child picks saffron flowers from a field in Pampore, some 25 km south of Srinagar, India.

Ghulam Mohamad Chopan is a shepherd who has been associated with the rearing of sheep for last 40 years. Ghulam Mohammad, 72-year-old, believes that we have best pastures available for grazing but the climate has turned hostile in the last 20 years. “Extreme climatic conditions in Highlands force us to leave this profession. We used to move towards forests and pastures in early May, but rains resulting in cold temperature has made our work very difficult,” he said.

It has become very difficult to rely on the existing pastures because they are shrinking. Water sources are dwindling. “Where should we go to graze our sheep? We spend about three to four months in these meadows. The people live in the highland areas,” he asks. Over the centuries, sheep and cattle breeding has been their key livelihood, which, with the harsh climate and geography, has shaped their nomadic way of life.

According to the official reports available on J&K’s husbandry department website, total annual mutton production in the Kashmir is 106.88 lakh kg while 147 lakh kg has to be imported. The report also suggests that annual consumption of meat is 51,000 tonnes worth 1200 crore rupees. With available sheep and goat population of 65.90 lakhs, the state at present is importing two-third of its meat requirements.

Photo credit: by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images