Choudhary Mohammad Iqbal was recently appointed as the Director of the Agriculture Department, Kashmir. The Kashmir Walla spoke with him about the current state of, recent developments in, and challenges facing the agriculture sector. Here are edited excerpts.
What is the current state of the agricultural sector?
We produce vegetables during the season when farmers in rest of India cannot because the climate is not favourable. I believe that agriculture is flourishing in Kashmir. We produce thousands of metric tonnes of fresh vegetables in Kharif season (May to October). During that season, the surplus is around 45 percent. The vegetables are exported to Jammu, New Delhi etcetera. For the benefit of farmers, the department has decided to provide refrigerated vans. They only have to spend their money on the petrol and then their produce can be exported everywhere.
We only witness the shortage during the Rabi season (November to March). Other than that agriculture is successful here.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, we started giving seedlings to farmers under controlled conditions. We saw a huge rush of people during those days. People across the Valley started growing vegetables during the lockdown. These were not just farmers, they were common people who grew vegetables in their kitchen gardens.
Currently we have thirty-eight high-tech polyverse in which we grow seedlings. We have even decided to distribute seedlings between 25 to 28 February in Lal Mandi. We have each and every system in place to provide a proper system to the farmers.
The biggest problem is land conversion (from agricultural to other purposes, mainly residential). And we have no control over it. Revenue department needs to take measures to stop it.
Why is our dependency on rice increasing?
We have 141 lakh hectares of land for producing rice. The population is over 85 lakhs. If we take the floating population to be around 10 lakhs, we also have to consider the paramilitary forces. The food requirement that we have for this population, as per 420 gram food requirement of people per day, we require a lot more space to grow rice. We can only produce agriculture based on the land that we have. The agriculture department has been giving a good variety of seeds to people. The production of paddy in Kashmir is highest in the country. The problem lies in the size of land. The average size of land holding is decreasing. And the population is increasing so there is a high demand for food. If we don’t start saving our land, the situation will be really difficult for us.
What is being done to curb adverse effects on urbanisation on agricultural land?
We have been organising awareness programmes among people regarding the urbanisation and decreasing [availability of] land for farming. This is basically the job of the revenue department. They have the legislation.
How is the impact of frequent highway closure during winters being mitigated?
This year we appointed a nodal officer for ensuring that the government is informed immediately about those farmers whose trucks are stuck on the highway. We made sure that their trucks are prioritized. This is what we have been doing in this regard otherwise this is an administrative problem. The refrigerated vans are used to export the vegetables safely. This year we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Jammu and Kashmir Horticulture Planning and Marketing Department. Our farmers can directly take their surplus to the terminal markets and get the money easily.
What technological advancements are being introduced in farming?
We are working on the ambition that by 2022, the income of our farmers would be doubled. This is the slogan of the Prime Minister of India and it is our national slogan. We have to introduce integrated farming among people.
Our mission is to introduce integrated farming at every place. The department of horticulture, agriculture and all allied sectors are working together so that a farmer should do farming, while he has a cow and even fish. This will promote organic farming. The farmer will produce paddy and vegetables on the same land and have a fish farm which has a huge scope in Kashmir. Through this a farmer will work in multiple departments and earn a lot more than before. Integrated farming is the future of farming.
Other than that, seed distribution, kisan credit card, fasal beema yojana (insurance service for the farmers), is included. Within two days, we are announcing tenders for the benefit of farmers. Through this, they will have crop insurance. If at some point the farmer faces any trouble and if his crop is damaged or something, the government has created a provision for their compensation. We have already done a lot on this. It is in the implementation process, which started in Kharif season for paddy.
We have an established channel right from panchayat level to the directorate level. We do farmer darbar. I don’t think there is this much awareness in any other part of the country. We do it on several levels including panchayat level, circle level, zonal level, sub-divisional level, district level and divisional level. We have technocrats who are well qualified.
We have been doing training programmes for farmers in university, department and in all the districts. We have even created self help groups. We take them to other parts of India where they see how farming is done there.
The experts in Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology provide training to farmers. And we are even working on our human resource development in order to create a lab for the land programme. We can expect a really good change by 2022 and it is starting here.