Leaving his 16 years of service to start a second career, the erstwhile cop emerged as the model grower after experimenting with honey, cut-flowers and now medicinal plants, reports Hilal Shah
In 2006, after serving Jammu and Kashmir Police for over 26-years, Syed Mukhtar, now 60, opted for premature retirement. He wanted to start his own business. At a place like Kashmir, where getting into government employment is considered a Himalayan achievement and a guarantee to a safe future, Mukhtar’s decision to quit was considered as a daring one. He had 16-years of service left when he left a cop’s job.
Jammu and Kashmir police is considered the best employer when it comes to the welfare of its personnel.
A resident of picturesque Deedkoot village in Kupwara district, Mukhtar had his future planned even before he quit his job.
As his village is surrounded by forests on one side and apple orchards on the other side, Mukhtar’s future plans revolved around nature: precisely apiculture.
“My heart was never into policing,” Mukhtar said. “I always wanted to do something else, like rearing bees.”
Before he was recruited as a constable in 1982, Mukhtar spent most of his childhood reading religion. “It helped shape my personality in a different way,” said Mukhtar. “Even during my service as a policeman, I continued this habit of reading.”
So after leaving his job, Mukhtar started cultivating honey at his home with just five bee-colonies that he got from the Department of Agriculture.
“Since childhood, I was in love with nature as I would spend most of my time in forests and orchards. I was in the sixth standard when I grafted a variety of flowers and potatoes,” said Mukhtar. “From that time, I dreamt of becoming a progressive, innovative farmer and entrepreneur.”
What started as a hobby soon grew into a successful business with a vast clientele. “I would like people to come and learn the art of bee-keeping so that they can start their own business,” said Mukhtar.
At present, Mukhtar has over hundreds of bee-colonies that he shuttles between Kupwara and Jammu, depending on the weather condition.
“We work in Jammu for over five months when Kashmir reels under intense cold,” he said. “Then we return home for more than half a year stint.”
The 600-kilogram production from Jammu is sold in markets located across different states in India. “We sell it in raw form,” said Mukhtar.
His primary operational base is in Kupwara which is functional in summers with an overall production of 2500 kilograms.
To market his product in a better way, Mukhtar opened a showroom in Kupwara.
In 2010, after four years of a successful run with bee-keeping, Mukhtar shifted his focus to commercial floriculture. It was a tough challenge as Mukhtar’s knowledge of flowers was limited to his hobby. So, to overcome the hurdle he sought help from Sher Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST). “I am highly thankful to its Vice-Chancellor for all the help they extended,” said Mukhtar.
After he got the basics of floriculture, Mukhtar decided to use his expertise and start plantation of the first batch.
“I planted Marigold flower on 50 kanals of rented land at Kupwara,” he said. “Within no time, I added Gladiola to the list of flowers I grew.”
During summers, the beautiful fields of Gladiola and Marigold flowers offered a pleasant view to onlookers.
As the demand for Kashmiri flowers is huge in Indian states, Mukhtar had to keep the supply going.
“Kashmir flowers are used for religious as well as ornamental purposes across India. People use them to decorate homes, offices, hotels besides given them as gifts,” said Mukhtar.
In 2014, Mukhtar was declared India’s biggest Marigold grower by Sher Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology (SKUAST). The same year he was awarded as the first innovative farmer of the country.
In 2017, he started production of medicinal plants, a field less explored in Kashmir as of now. As his business grew, so did his strength of staff. “I have been able to provide jobs to poor people. Right now, we have ten employees working here; I will be employing more soon,” he said.
“I change my workforce almost every year as they get trained here within that time and then I encourage them to start their own ventures,” said Mukhtar.
One of Mukhtar’s employees, Bashir Ahmad, who is in his early forties, said he joined because he wants to learn the art and start his own business in future.
“I have successfully prepared herbal medicines at home that help in controlling damage to the crop caused by insects and fertilizers,” claims Ahmad. “We have lots of resources but lack proper utilization.”
So far many people like Ahmad were trained by Mukhtar. “I want to help people stand on their own,” he said.
Mukhtar says his mission is to train people so that they can go and start their own ventures. “I invite people to come and join me and learn. My doors are always open for all.