Farm Tech

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After replacing bulls with tractors, Kashmir’s agriculture sector lost steam and appetite for modernisation. Zafar Aafaq reports the stagnation and challenges

agriculture-storyAt 7:30 am, Tariq Ahmad and his father Mohammad Akbar are negotiating rates with a bull owner to plough their undulated field on a knoll in Awoora village of district Kupwara. The five kanals land has no road for the tractor to climb the knoll.

“It is extremely difficult to find a pair of bulls to plough fields,” says Tariq. “Not many families now domesticate bulls in villages.”

Mushtaq Mir, a local farmer, who sold his bull last year, sees no benefit in domesticating a bull. “Tractors have made them irrelevant.”

A bull is now required only in fields where tractors cannot reach due to poor connectivity.

In early 70s, J&K state Agro Industries Development Corporation Ltd (AIDCL), introduced first tractor in Kashmir. But it took farmers around one decade to get used to tractors. However, bulls continued to remain relevant in Kashmir up to 90s.

One of the first tractors bought by AIDCL is still kept as “heritage tractor” inside Lal Mandi Srinagar.

AIDCL was established in 1972 “with the aim to introduce farm mechanization,” says Corporation’s Divisional Manager Muzzafar Mehboob Gani. Back then AIDCL had a tractor hiring division for farmers.

With tractors about 300 percent more efficient than traditional plough, it enables farmers increased productivity, hence better life by becoming commercial instead of subsistence.

“The corporation aims to minimize the involvement of labour component in farming,” says Gani.

In 2014, the corporation established an Agri Mall, a showroom where mechanical farming implements are available for sale to farmers. “Farmers can buy these high tech modern machines through various schemes on subsidized rates.” says Gani.

Agri Mall offers products like tillers, brush cutters, transplanters, weeders, reapers cum binders, powered sprayers and irrigation pumps.

AIDCL plans to establish Agri Malls in all districts across J&K. “We have sent the proposal to government and we are awaiting a response,” says Gani.

For manufacture and sale of manual tools used in farming, Department of Agriculture has set up six workshops in different districts across Kashmir. Tools fabricated in these workshops are thrashers, mould bold plough, spade, garden shovels, racks, khurpas, sickles, pruning scissors, beehives, honey extractors and green house frames.

Established in 1964, the oldest workshop at SKUAST’s Shalimar campus is run by Mechanical Engineering section of the agriculture department.

The workshop is used to fabricate and sell the day-to-day equipments to farmers directly or indirectly through agencies.

“Last year we sold around seven thousand farming tools worth Rs 65 lakh on subsidized rates,” claims Ghulam Hassan Guroo, Joint Director, Agriculture Engineering, Department of Agriculture. “The tools are also sold to farmers during Kisan Melas held across Kashmir.”

Acceptance

In Indian states like Punjab and Haryana, mechanical intervention has revolutionized agriculture sector. However in Kashmir, most of the farming activities like harvesting, thrashing, winnowing is still carried out manually with the help of traditional tools. Modern tools are there but not many farmers use them.

“Maize is cultivated on around 80 thousand hectares of land but there is almost no mechanical intervention,” says Farooq Ahmad Shah, Chief Technical Officer, Directorate of Agriculture, Kashmir.

“There is some mechanical intervention in rice, but it is quite low when compared to other states,” he adds.

For instance, from traditional plough, a Kashmir farmer has now moved to tractors, but other machines have not been introduced yet.

Combine harvester, a high value mechanical tool, in only found in government run 3,000 kanal Padgampora farms in Pulwama.   “A transplatter was introduced here but it failed due to bowl shape of the field,” says Mujtuba Ahmad, who looks after the farm.

Kashmir being a hilly place with terraced and undulated agricultural land, “most of the modern machines used in farming have been designed for plains,” says Farooq. “That is why only a few machines like tractors and tillers find acceptance in Kashmir.

“A paddy transplanter is ideally suited for vast fields which are plain, in Kashmir majority of the farmers still transplant with hands,” says Farooq. The weeder works better in the fields where seedlings are planted in linear symmetry, which is done with a mechanical tansplanter.

Majority of the farmers in Kashmir are low land holders. On average a family owns four to five Kanals of land in rural Kashmir. “Due to low returns they can’t afford costly machinery. Whereas in Punjab, a combine harvester is a common sight,” Farooq adds. That’s why for families in rural Kashmir farming is not the sole occupation.

Unlike other states, there is no scheme in Kashmir enabling marginal farmers to hire high value machines to have sustainable agriculture production. Besides, chances of natural calamities and crop destruction, has made people skeptical about investing in agriculture.

Javed Mir, who owns ten kanals of paddy land near river Kahmil in Trehgam says, “Since the river is flood prone we don’t invest much into it (land).”

The scenario is slightly better if we talk about Kashmir’s horticulture sector. It has adopted almost all new mechanical interventions. Due to higher yield and good market value of horticulture produced farmers are converting paddy fields into apple orchards. Even in a place like Kupwara, where soil is ideally suited for rice cultivation, you see conversion happening rapidly.

Farmers use tractors and tillers to plough and prepare the land in their orchards. There are spray motors to spray oil. “Brush cutters and power sprayers are in demand currently,” says Moahmmad Faizan, sales manager at Hanief Motors residency road Srinagar.  For planting trees, there are motorized tools to till the land.

In vegetable cultivation sprayers and tillers find some role; however, most of the farming is still done manually. Mohammad Shafi Dar who cultivates different kinds of vegetables on 20 Kanals of land near his home in Lawaypora area of Srinagar says, “Though we use motorized machines including tractors, tillers and spray motors, still most of the vegetable cultivation is done manually.”

Kashmir is believed to possess huge potential for potato farming, but very few farmers cultivate potato as the only crop in fields. Most of the yield is produced at government owned farms. “Farmers lack awareness about modern machinery and new scientific methods of cultivation,” says Mohammad Ramzan Wani, who until recently was Chief Potato Officer, Department of Agriculture.

Interestingly, mechanical intervention has happened only in department of agriculture run farms. “At these farms we use tractors, potato planters, power weeders, potato diggers,” however, farmers of far-off Budnamal in Kupwara still use traditional plough to prepare fields for potato cultivation.

In saffron cultivation tillers have been introduced but farmers are reluctant to accept them. “Despite being cost effective, we still don’t use tillers because it ruins the soil and cannot dig deep,” says Niyaz Ahmad, a saffron cultivator from Pampore, “Manual hoeing produces more yield.”

Kashmir is home to medicinal oil producing herbs. Lavender, Bulgarian rose and rosemary produce oil which gives farmers good returns. “The potential for rosemary, Bulgarian rose farming is huge but due to lack of awareness and high cost of oil extraction machines, there are fewer farmers associated with its farming,” says Zahoor Ahmad, Seed Analyst at Directorate of Agriculture, Lal Mandi.  A liter of Bulgarian rose oil is worth Rs 2 lakh.

Zahoor recommends, “Government should install an oil extractor in every village where people are interested in Bulgarian rose cultivation, so that they have facility available at their doorstep as the oil is extracted only from the freshly cut flowers.”

Finance

In 1982 government of India created National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) to boost farm sector in India. NABARD aims to develop farm sector through “accelerating ground level credit flow by Rural Financial Institutions,” says NABARD’s official website.

NABARD does not directly interact with the farmer. The farmer avails financial assistance from banks at lower interest rates which avail re-financing services of NABARD.

 “We sanction grants to Cooperate Banks, Rural Development Banks and Commercial Banks,” says Zahoor.

Moreover NABARD organizes financial literacy and awareness programmes “which aim to create awareness about financial schemes available to farmers,” says Dines Kapila, Deputy General Manager NABARD, J&K. “Farmers in Kashmir are less commercially oriented as compared to farmers in other states.”

Banks have financial schemes for farmers, however, J&K government does not have any customized scheme for farm mechanization. In Uttrakhand, which is a hilly state too, Sub-Mission on Agriculture Mechanization is in place currently.

The banks provide loans to farmers under Kissan Credit Card Scheme. “Farmers have liberty to use this money in whatever way they like,” says Abdul Ahad War, Managing Director, State Co-operative Bank.

However, J&K Bank has a customized scheme for farm mechanization called Kisan Dost Finance.

“Among the 45 banks functioning in the state, only J&K Bank has such customized scheme,” says Sajjad Bazaz, Incharge J&K Bank Corporate Communication.

“The purpose of the scheme is to provide loan to farmers for purchasing wide range of agricultural/horticultural, implements/machinery,” says Bazaz.

All those farmers owning cultivated agri land holding of one acre are eligible for loan under this scheme to buy tractors, harvesters, four wheeler load carriers. The loan for other less costly machines is available to farmers holding half-an-acre of agri land.

Sometimes due to crop failure the farmers find it difficult to pay back their loans. Government of India recently started Fasal Beema Yojna – in case there is crop failure the farmer will be compensated.

Mechanical intervention is happening to some extent, however, electronic and information technology intervention is yet to start in Kashmir.

In other states, entrepreneurs have come up with computer software and mobile apps to enable farmers stay updated about modern innovations, better techniques, and market rates, diagnose and treat diseases and ways to get better value of their products.

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