Sowing new seeds of tradition
by Bisma Nazir
There is a palpable tilt towards the revival of agricultural farming in Kashmir, both along conventional as well as organic patterns. And the best part is, the youth are among the top runners in the revival of this tradition.
BEYOND administrative exercises and politics, Kashmir is on the path of reviving its agrarian sector. There is certainly a shift towards the revival of agricultural
farming, both along conventional as well as organic patterns. It is no news that the agricultural land in Kashmir has shrunk to unimaginable levels because of unplanned as
well as ill-planned residential colonies cropping up over what was prime agricultural land. Besides many factors, it is mainly the expansion of cities and towns and acquisition of land for roads and other developmental projects that have led to the shrinking of agricultural land in Kashmir.
Kashmir was once famously called the ‘rice bowl’ of India but that term is no more relevant here. The production of paddy, wheat, millet (maize), oil seeds and cereals has
come down drastically. Since agricultural farming was seen as a non-profit activity, the produce could hardly cover the cost. This was another reason behind the conversion of Type A, B and C soils – primarily suited for the cultivation of paddy, wheat, oil seeds and maize – into that for non-agricultural purposes. The focus obviously shifted towards cash crops under the horticulture sector like apples, cherries, pears, almonds etc. However, this culture of conversion of massive land banks for horticultural purposes could not last long because the production was far more than the demand. This impacted its market value adversely and we witnessed stagnation and even recession in the market price for horticulture produce of Kashmir. Though the market value for horticulture produce of oranges, bananas, mangoes, kiwis, pomegranates, guavas etc. has gone exponentially high, essentially because the produce matches the demand, but here, in case of apples, the
demand is much lesser than the production. That is why there is stagnation in the market value of apples and even recession has been witnessed in the last couple of years. Owing to the losses incurred on horticulture produce, youngsters have embarked upon the path of revival of agricultural produce and allied activities. And interestingly, every single crop in Kashmir is now seen as cash crop.
During the last two years, a record increase in the production of paddy and oil seeds has been witnessed all across the Kashmir valley. According to the Directorate of Agriculture, Kashmir, productivity has increased manifold in the last two years because of awareness and scientific intervention.
While talking to Kashmir Central, Agriculture Director Chowdhary Mohammad Iqbal says that mass awareness programmes about the benefits of agricultural produce through scientific intervention are what have greatly helped in the revival of agricultural sector in the Kashmir region. People have started taking keen interest in conventional and organic farming, both in agricultural and vegetable produce, he says. He adds that oil-seed cultivation, which was almost abandoned in Kashmir, has seen revival, since there is awareness that adulterated food products have devastating impacts on health and hygiene. People are now more keen to use local produce than what is being brought from outside simply because the latter is mostly adulterated. The Jammu and Kashmir government has recently prioritised the agriculture sector to boost farming and commercial agriculture. It has earmarked a whopping Rs 80 crore as support system for the farmers to boost organic farming. The demand for organic produce has certainly been increasing. Chowdhary says that government initiative aims to create seven organic clusters in each district. Since there is a healthy trend among progressive farmers for revival of the agricultural sector, the government aims to convert around 2000 hectares of space for organic production, informs Chowdhary. The department has already started training camps and workshops for introducing organic farming at a massive level, he says, adding that the government is intending to commercialise the agricultural sector in Kashmir. “We have the appropriate weather conditions for commercialisation of agriculture and vegetable produce. Ours is one region in the country where we have fresh vegetables during the monsoon period. We always have a surplus stock of vegetables which we export to other states during monsoons and get a good price for it, he says, adding that now the focus is on promoting more and more organic farming. He also informs that “we have a bumper oil seed crop this year which would cover the demand to a great extent. Kashmir is indeed inching
towards self-sufficiency in agricultural produce”.
A case for saving agricultural land
On the unregulated conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes, Chowdhary says his department is working tirelessly towards creating awareness among farmers. “Since my department has no executive authority in this matter, we can only create awareness about the negative implication of massive conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes,” says he, adding that the revenue department has the domain to stop this trend. It may be mentioned here that the Jammu and Kashmir government had framed rules for conversion of agricultural land in January 2022. However, the Jammu & Kashmir Revenue Board framed rules which provide for the regulation of the conversion of agricultural land for non- agricultural purposes. According to the new rules, the stakeholders have to seek permission from the district collector for conversion of land. The basic concern, however remains, that the agricultural
land is shrinking at a rapid pace which needs to be somehow stopped, to ensure environmental and ecological preservation as well as productivity.
Hope hangs on young shoulders
There is no denying that there is massive realisation about the futility and fatality of massive conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Educated youngsters, in particular, have shown keen interest in the revival of livestock including sheep and cattle dairy, cow dairies and even poultry dairies. Many youngsters have done a tremendous job of setting up their own dairies after receiving higher education. There is hope that the younger generation won’t allow the rich traditions to die down – be it farming, livestock, handicrafts and other arts. Immaterial of some politically-loaded narratives, Kashmir is really transforming as far the revival of rich traditions goes. And agriculture certainly is among the top choices. And that is great news.