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J&K Agriculture: What needs to change

THOUGHTSCOPE: By Khurshid Ahmad Ganai

Jammu and Kashmir’s agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry together contribute about 20 percent to its Net State Domestic Product ( NSDP), behind the secondary sector’s 23 percent and tertiary sector’s 56 percent where salaries and wages from the government contribute the maximum to this 56 percent. The digest of statistics 2017-18 issued by the government of J&K gives these figures for the year 2017-18. There is great scope for increase in the share of agriculture and horticulture in the NSDP. So what needs to change from here?

Changes must be conceived in terms of type of crops to be cultivated, production techniques and technology to augment quantities and quality, storage, processing and marketing. The objectives must include achieving higher productivity in cereals, full self sufficiency in vegetable production and
prevention of wanton conversion of agricultural land going unabated in the whole state and particularly in Kashmir valley where agricultural land is limited and average size of the holdings not more than a few kanals.

Need for an Agriculture Policy

I am not sure whether a policy has ever been considered by the erstwhile state cabinet in J&K based on the report of a duly constituted cabinet committee or an expert group from outside the department. To that extent both the department and the erstwhile top political executive have missed out on giving the desired attention to agriculture which it deserved on account of its criticality to employment and well being of the farming community who form the major part of the poorer sections of our society. So a new policy is imperative and need of the hour to provide the basic framework for taking agriculture forward in Jammu and Kashmir.

New farming techniques and technology in agriculture

Average household holding of 0.2 to 0.3 hectares in Jammu and Kashmir is small even by the national standards but we cannot call it a problem here because this is the result of our very successful agrarian reforms like the Big Estates Abolition Act, 1950 and the J&K Agrarian Reforms Act, 1976. So we need to move on with it as the given thing and in fact expect further fragmentation in future. But the crop mix is changeable and the question to ask is whether our
farmers should continue cultivating the same crops or shift to other more remunerative crops, outside rice and maize which are presently the main kharif crops and wheat and oil seeds which are the main rabi crops. Similarly, what other vegetables and fruits can be cultivated through non-farm techniques like terrace farming, trays and vertical farming etc. Talking about trays, our farmers have been growing mushroom in trays for a long time but this activity has not spread beyond a few areas in the erstwhile state. Again, saffron cultivation has not really spread to other potential areas outside Pampore in Kashmir and Kishtwar in Jammu region. Vegetable and fruit productivity and quality has by and large been stagnating for the last many years. The main reason for this stagnation is grossly inadequate extension work by the officials of agriculture department, although the number of trained officials responsible for extension work is quite large and spread out through the length and breadth of the erstwhile state. The extension officials have not been able to innovate and demonstrate better farming methods, notwithstanding the fact that more than half among them live in rural areas and belong to farming families. Neither have they been able to demonstrate on a perceptible scale new techniques like terrace farming, vertical farming, green house cultivation, organic farming etc.

Recently, I learnt of one successful case of terrace farming in the Shalteng area of Srinagar city but one swallow does not make a summer. Doubtless, there is great scope for terrace farming in Kashmir keeping in view the size of the concrete houses and the tradition of having verandas and terraces in these elaborate structures.

Vegetable, Fruit, Flower, Medicinal and Aromatic plants production to be augmented 

It is commonly believed in Jammu and Kashmir that production of vegetables, fruit, flowers, medicinal and aromatic plants can be augmented substantially to contribute to incomes if the farmers and households are taught to adopt non- farm techniques and new technologies to grow these and simultaneously match production to the markets within and outside Jammu and Kashmir. As they say, expenditure saved is income earned. So if the households achieve self sufficiency just in vegetable production through use of non-farm techniques like terrace farming and green houses, they will be able to save expenditure on purchase of vegetables from the market.

Organic Farming

There is also great scope for organic farming of vegetables and fruit in Kashmir because organic crops from Kashmir with the double tag of Kashmir and organic, are likely to be very popular in the domestic market for organic foods which is growing rapidly. So it is eminently sensible to pursue a vigorous policy for promotion of organic farming and for that the department of agriculture needs to make organic farming central to its extension effort. Many native Kashmir vegetables and spices, dry fruits and other fruits including apple, saffron and a few native varieties of rice can be grown using organic farming techniques.

Alignment with the national strategy on agriculture

While addressing a meeting of the Niti Aayog on 20 th February, the Prime Minister has spoken about the untapped potential in the farm sector and emphasized on reducing wastage through better storage and processing. He highlighted the importance of cooperation between the states and the centre and creation of an appropriate policy framework. Therefore, this may be the right time for the agriculture department of J&K and the stakeholders to move forward from here, not slowly but significantly and rapidly in tandem with the national schemes as are also suitable for Jammu and Kashmir.

(Khurshid Ahmed Ganai, Retd. IAS, is former Advisor to Governor, J&K and Chief Information Commissioner, Jammu & Kashmir)

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