As Kashmir’s apple industry suffered major blow in quality apple production last year, a Ph.D. scholar from south Kashmir’s Shopian district has started awareness campaigns regarding the use of scientific technologies and is trying to bridge the gap between growers and SKUAST-Kashmir experts with the help of social media.
Dr. Syed Sami-Ullah Simnani earned his Ph.D. in fruit sciences from SKAUST-Kashmir in year 2019 and after that, he started the YouTube channel ‘Horticulture in Kashmir’ to reach the apple growers in the valley, who are mostly using traditional, non-scientific practices in their orchards.
Hailing from Wangam Sudershan Pora area of Shopian, completed his B.Sc from SKAUST-Jammu and Masters in Fruit Sciences with a University topper certificate from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology, Meerut, Uttar Pradesh.
Dr. Sami-Ullah was selected for Ph.D. in Fruit Science (Horticulture) from SKUAST-K, in 2015. During his Ph.D. programme he carried his research on the topic ‘Identification of selected apple clonal rootstocks through morphological and molecular approaches.
Apart from hosting awareness sessions on social media, he is currently working as a Senior Research Fellow (SRF) from July 2020 onwards in the project entitled “DUS Centre for Temperate fruits and Nuts” at ICAR-Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture -CITH, Srinagar Kashmir.
Born and brought up in a middle-class family which is mainly associated with the apple business, Dr.Sami Ullah told Rising Kashmir that the main aim of his initiative was to reach out to fruit growers and to identify the problems that are faced at the ground level by growers.
During the last year of his Ph.D. degree at SKAUST-K, he started creating awareness sessions about horticulture practices, spraying of pesticides, fungicides, and other chemicals on social media.
Dr. Sami Ullah says although there are some problems in the system. We cannot blame them completely as most growers are not taking expert advice from SKAUST-K and the Department of Horticulture. To overcome the gap, I started this campaign on social media and thanks to Almighty Allah, I am getting a good response from the people,” he said.
Apple trade is key to the J&K economy with an annual turnover pegged at Rs 8,000 crore. As many as 33 lakh families are dependent on the fruit trade and out of the 2.5 million metric tonnes produced nationally; about 2 million metric tonnes of apples grow in Kashmir.
“Initially I used to share my own experience and tips regarding the usage of pesticides, fungicides, and spray schedules and from last year onward, I began hosting experts from SKAUST-K and Horticulture department and there were discussing a wide range of topics faced by growers on the ground,” he said.
Dr. Sami-Ullah says this idea was more fruitful as more orchardists are consulting expert advice from scientists of SKUAST-K and experts from the department of horticulture. There are dozens of issues that orchardists face but sometimes they need expert opinions rather than getting exploited by self-styled experts, he said.
To assist valley-based apple growers, he is interacting with them directly on social media. On average he receives more than 30-40 phone calls from the apple growers and clears their queries related to spray, pesticides, leaf infection, and other issues.
“There is a need for more awareness regarding the apple crop, which is the backbone of Jammu and Kashmir’s economy. We have more scope in two sectors, horticulture and tourism but there is a need for people’s cooperation, so that twin sectors can be strengthened,” he said.
Dr. Sami-Ullah said apple growers in Kashmir have to focus on the quality of fruit along with branding, packaging as there is high-end competition at national and international levels, if we fail to adopt new technologies, we can collapse anytime.
“In future, using traditional methods can be challenging for the apple growers in Kashmir and the only way out to this is the use of technological and proper expert consultation,” he said.
About high-density apple plantation, he said mostly apple plants are being imported in the valley from various countries, there is no issue in that but growers should cultivate them in a scientific way and not in a traditional way.
“Presently the majority of the high-density orchards were sponsored by the government, as there is no problem as they are getting guidelines from the experts,” he said.
Dr. Sami-Ullah said there is a need to explore more ways to transport the fruit from Kashmir in a better way. “Mostly fruit-laden vehicles during winters are struck for several days, which affects the fruit life. There is a need to look into the issue,” he said.
Regarding suggestions for apple growers, Dr. Sami-Ullah said the focus should be more on the branding of Kashmir apples, different tags should be used based on their respective unique selling points.
About future plans, he said he wants to connect growers and experts in Kashmir so that it can clear anxiety and confusion regarding using different cultural practices for quality production of different fruits. The move will directly boost the quality fruit production in the Valley, Dr. Sami-Ullah said.
He has worked on multiple projects including in Mission Program on Biotech-Krishi Innovation Science Application Network (Biotech KISAN) India’s Farmers Partner with Indian and Global Best in Science for India’s Future at Division of Fruit Science, SKUAST-Kashmir.
Secondly, the Impact of climate changes on apple production and screening of climate-resilient varieties in Kashmir valley, at Division of Environmental Sciences at SKUAST-Kashmir.