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J&K’s agriculture is facing a crisis. It needs attention now.

Ziraat Times Editorial Board

J&K is increasingly losing its arable land due to rapid urbanisation. Whatever land is left for agriculture and horticulture is witnessing excessive use of agrochemicals, posing significant risks to J&K’s  overall ecosystem and public health. When we look at the data of the use of agrochemicals, like pesticides, fungicides and chemical fertilisers, it is easy to discern that sustainable and healthy agriculture is indeed under threat in Jammu & Kashmir.

The excessive use of agrochemicals in Jammu & Kashmir pose a range of harmful impacts on the environment, human health, and sustainable agriculture today. When the soil health of J&K is compared to the situation that prevailed 20-30 years ago, what is clear is that excessive agrochemical use has disrupted soil microbial activity, reduced organic matter content, and altered soil structure, leading to soil degradation and reduced fertility. Agrochemicals have now also leached into groundwater and surface water sources, especially in Kashmir valley, contaminating drinking water and harming aquatic ecosystems. Pesticides and fungicides are now wellknown to indiscriminately kill beneficial insects, pollinators, and other organisms in J&K’s farms as well, disrupting the delicate balance of ecosystems and reducing biodiversity. Repeated use of the same pesticides have now also created a situation of pesticide resistance in pests in Kashmir’s farms, making them more difficult to control. It is real but the tragedy is that few people talk about it.

It is wellknown that long-term exposure to agrochemicals has been linked to chronic health issues, including neurological disorders, reproductive problems, and cancer. Excessive use of agrochemicals have now lead to pesticide residues in food, posing potential health riconsumepublic health. When we look at the recent data on the rise of cancer cases in J&K, a lot of questions arise.

J&K’s agriculture policy is supposed to address all these issues on priority. It is, therefore, high time for Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology and other relevant departments and agencies of the government to pay due attention to this situation. Promotion of sustainable and healthy agriculture is one of the primary research and outreach mandates of institutions like SKUAST. To promote sustainable agriculture in J&K, several measures need to be implemented.

For instance, blanket use of agrochemicals, without soil testing and nutrient management, is a major problem in J&K. Regular soil testing and nutrient management are practices which are known to help farmers optimize fertilizer use, reducing overapplication and environmental harm. This area is not among high priorities.

Promotion of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a dire imperative now. However, the narrative of agro chemicals use is so dominant that IPM is hardly a priority in agriculture outreach now. IPM approach combines various methods to control pests and diseases, reducing reliance on chemical pesticides. This includes techniques like crop rotation, biological pest control, and the use of natural pesticides.

Educating farmers about the harmful effects of agrochemicals and the benefits of sustainable practices is another priority which is hardly pursued by J&K’s agriculture promotion agencies and academic institutions. Considering the adverse impacts of agrochemicals, workshops, demonstrations, and training programs can effectively disseminate knowledge and promote adoption of sustainable methods. Additionally, financial support policies are needed to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable practices. This could include subsidies for organic inputs, equipment for IPM, or cost-sharing for training programs.

In J&K’s context, what is extremely essential is investing in research and development to identify and promote sustainable agricultural practices that are tailored to the specific needs and conditions of Jammu & Kashmir.

Although there are instances when organic farming has been talked about, the fact of the matter is that it lacks scale and market impact. J&K’s agriculture promotion policies must seek to establish and support markets for organic produce throughout the country, thereby providing farmers with a viable market for their crops, incentivizing them to adopt organic practices. Without a good market, organic farming, experiences show, is unable to sustain.

Additionally, strict enforcement of regulations on agrochemical use to deter excessive and harmful practices needs more attention.

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