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India - Climate change impacts agriculture in the northern Himalayas

Unseasonal rain and snowfall is the main reason for agriculture failing in Himachal Pradesh. “Hailstorms or torrential rains are usually destructive to our crops while snowfall is not,” said Uma Devi of Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, when speaking to Mongabay-India. However, the post-monsoon heavy snowfall in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir, which came in two heavy spells in late September as well as early November 2018, were exceptions, and are now attributed to exacerbated climate change in the Himalayan region. Tourists were escaping the hot plains and flocking to the mountains to see snowfall. But the snowfall at this time of year was unexpected and is a calamity for the farming communities in these mountainous terrains.

In Lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh, located at around 3300 metres, snowfall in late September was disastrous for the summer crop of potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage as well as apples, pears, plums and cherries. Farmers of the district suffered a collective loss of more than Rs. 300 million. The last time such untimely, heavy snowfall occurred was in 1955.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the government has declared the early November snowfall as a natural calamity. Such heavy snowfall in these early months came as a total surprise and has not occurred in the last 20 years. In Doda, situated above 1500 m in the Chenab valley, stories have emerged of destroyed maize crops as well as destruction to apple, walnut and persimmon orchards that were awaiting pruning in early December.

At the same time, late September was the time that pastoralists from the nomadic Gaddi tribe were to descend from the higher Dhauladhar mountains in the Kangra and Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh with their flocks of goats and sheep to begin their journey towards the Punjab region. This year many shepherds were stuck, loss of life to cattle and horses were in the hundreds and many awaited evacuation near the treacherous Bara Bhangal pass, at around 4000 m, while the state responded to mainly foreign tourists stranded near Manali.

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