A scope for growth

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A scope for growth

JAMMU & Kashmir is predominantly an agrarian economy with a majority of its rural population directly depending on agriculture and its allied sectors. The two regions of Jammu and Kashmir, diversely varied in climatic factors, produce a number of different crops with great market value. The Kashmir Valley is famous for sericulture, horticulture, fisheries whereas rice, medicinal plants, mushrooms and basmati are the demand-driven crops of the Jammu region. Farmers across Jammu and Kashmir witness unevenness in their production thanks to erratic rainfall, heat wave and infrastructural deficit.

The horticulture in the Kashmir Valley has been in doldrums for the last couple of years due to unregistered fertilisers in the market, less demand for Kashmiri apples due to infusion of Iranian fruit, highway blockades and absence of crop insurance.

The growth of agriculture and allied sectors is linked with rural infrastructure. Although, the share of agricultural income has declined in Jammu and Kashmir in the recent years, it still provides crucial foundation for growth in view of its contribution to employment of labour.

A study at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K) reveals that J&K’s rural infrastructure has seen development in the recent years in the form of road building, better power connectivity and modernisation of irrigation. The study paints a rosy picture but the not-so-great agricultural output and decline in income are worrisome and which have led to the conversion of agricultural land into industrial and housing colonies.

We, at KC, take a look at the overall status of agriculture and the connected factors in J&K.

  • Roads, a crucial infrastructure

The infrastructure in the form of roads could be safely called the main artery of development of any region. Well-made roads go a long way in preventing crop losses and increase productivity. With the aim of doubling the income of farmers, the Union government, all over the country, started the widening of roads and reforms for efficient use of resources.

In 1980, the total length of roads in Jammu and Kashmir was only 8206 kms, while, at present, this has touched a remarkable 41,141 kms while the percentage of black-top roads has reached 74% as compared to 66% in 2019.

But there still are some areas that need improvement. During a conversation with Kashmir Central, Fayaz Ahmad Malik, president, Fruit Mandi, Sopore, says that owing to the blockade of the national highway in the winters, apple growers here suffer major losses. Says he: “It is good that the government has built a good road infrastructure which will ease our economy. But we always reiterate that the national highway should offer all-weather connectivity with no blockades. Frequent road blockades due to snow and landslides deteriorate the quality of our fruit as our loaded trucks cannot reach destinations in time”.

* Cooperative institutions on the decline

The study reveals that the number of cooperatives has declined in Jammu and Kashmir from 1634 to 1127. The decline is directly proportional to lesser credit facilities available and an unprecedented burden on rural farmers. Though the density of bank branches has increased significantly in rural areas, the cooperatives have seen a decline.

With the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and other banks providing credit facilities like Kissan Credit Card (KCC) loans, the cooperatives are unable to sustain as before.

  • Rural electrification

Notably, less electricity is consumed for agricultural purposes in Jammu and Kashmir as compared to Punjab and Haryana. But over the years, the consumption has increased, thanks to rural electrification.

Jammu & Kashmir received a reward of 100 crore in June 2022 from the Government of India for 100% rural electrification even before the deadline. Studies reveal that rural electrification stood at only 55.42% in 1980.

  • Modernisation of irrigation

The lower belt of the Rafiabad area of Baramulla district has seen shrinkage in canals with massive land degradation and conversion of agricultural land. Agriculture, in this region, is solely dependent on the irrigation running on electricity. The massive damage of the canal in the upper Dundusa village has left the farmers high and dry with no waters to feed their paddy cultivation.

Tariq Ahmad, a farmer from Rafiabad, says, “Till three days back, there was no irrigation supply to our fields here. We approached different officials in the Jal Shakti department and their timely intervention brought water into our fields. But let it be known that from May to September, we need continuous electricity to feed our rice fields and any disruption can cause deterioration of our paddy fields”.

  • Efforts that could help

Since irrigation directly impacts agricultural output, location specific technological advancement is a must for harnessing available water and improving agricultural intensification. Frequent droughts have hampered the efficiency of the irrigation system here and the perennial set of rivers has not spread horizontally to benefit the entire UT. Lack of water harvesting structures and river training works further hampers the efficiency of irrigation systems which could deplete more resources and electricity needs to be shifted towards irrigation systems.

Pertinently, the relationship between infrastructure and agriculture is a continuous process and must form the basis for rural agriculture. Micro-irrigation facilities at the village and block level help sustain, since mega projects require long lead time to deliver. Development of agriculture should be taken into account while considering decisions on local topography, the existing structures and their maintenance.

It is necessary to develop all weather resistant rural agriculture with the adoption of winter farming in Kashmir by providing subsidised greenhouse sheds, as suggests the study. The government needs to deliberate with all the stakeholders to retrieve agricultural land and make Jammu and Kashmir self-sufficient in agricultural production. Otherwise, the crisis could deepen and the farmers could fall in the trap of money lenders and may lose both their land and employment.

Meanwhile, the Joint Director, Agriculture has been unavailable for comment. However, an officer, on request of anonymity, says the policies of the central government have revolutionised the agricultural sector in terms of infrastructure and accessibility. Says he, “The Saubhagya scheme has helped bring electricity connections to all households in the rural areas. The Jammu and Kashmir administration has targeted areas cluster-wise and has provided electricity to the whole Union Territory including highly topographical areas”.

He further adds; “In our UT, there are around 396 ongoing surface minor irrigation schemes under Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) to ensure availability of water to dry areas. Likewise, after recent amendments in the Cooperative Societies Act 2002, we will witness a boom in these institutions and a coherent system will be there to offer credit facilities to our farmers. The Ministry of Cooperation is consolidating all these cooperatives under one umbrella with obsolete laws are being replaced by new ones.”

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