Eating away imports

Despite institutions meant to improve agricultural production, the state imports almost half of the rice requirement. Hamidullah Dar reports.

The inability of the government to promote agriculture is threatening the food security of the state, as the deficit continues to grow with serious repercussions.

Two farmers ploughing their fields and getting it ready for the plantation of paddy. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Experts say that the lack of coordination among various government departments meant to boost the promotion of agricultural produce has resulted in stagnation of the yield in the state. It has made the state, an importing destination of various food products including the staple food – rice and wheat.

 “Yes, we do import rice and wheat in a large quantity that should be a concern for all. The annual deficit in rice is 48% and overall it is 32% in all food items that is an alarming trend”, says Altaf Aijaz Andrabi, Deputy Director Agriculture Department. Despite having a Rice Research Station established in 1942 at Khudwani in Kulgam district, the gap between the local production and import of food grains to meet the demand is increasing every year.

The main importer states are Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, where the per hectare yield used to be much lower than Kashmir in the 1960’s. However, today these states not only produce food grains for the local consumption but also export it to other places, making farming a lucrative occupation there.

“Punjab farmer is well placed than his counterpart in our state. The farmer here is not that much enterprising. He has left the experimentation in his fields and is after government jobs or other occupations than pursuing a career in agriculture,” says K K Bhan, Joint Director, Agriculture Department Kashmir.

However, farmers in the valley are not ready to buy this viewpoint. “It is wrong that we are not enterprising or have left the fields. Tell me what we can do on our own. The government must provide us with latest techniques and technology so that the yield per hectare is increased to meet the local demand,” says Abdul Rashid Bhat, 45, a farmer living close to the Rice Research Station at Khudwani.

The state government established an agricultural university, SKUAST at Shalimar in 1982 to help the ailing agriculture sector by introducing new varieties of high yield crops. “The university performs the task it is meant for. Research and development of new varieties and techniques is a continuous process in SKUAST. In due course of time, we have developed many varieties of rice and other crops did their mini kit trials in different areas of the valley. We carried out a frontline demonstration at various Krishi Vighyan Kendras and on their basis had done on-farm trials of these varieties before handing them over to agriculture department for their distribution among farmers,” says Dr K N Singh, Associate Director, Extension Education, SKUAST-K.

But does the agriculture department dispense the information and latest techniques to the farmers? “I swear, in my life, I have never seen any person from agriculture department coming to our village and informing us about useful things regarding cultivation of as important a crop as rice, not to mention of other crops including vegetables,” complains Ghulam Nabi Sofi, 50, of Chirhama village in Islamabad district.

Experts believe that the boost in paddy production in the valley (a temperate climatic zone) in the 1960s and ‘70s was due to the discovery of Hugo-De-Wo-Gen, a dwarfing gene found in Thailand and inserted in new rice crops -China 1039, China 1007- that were introduced in the valley in 60s. For the last more than 40 years, these varieties are still sown in the valley exposing the progress in the sector. These varieties yield around 4.5 tons per hectare which should have been taken to 9 tons per hectare or so to reduce the dependency on the rice imports. The Rice Research Station (RRS) Khudwani came out with K-39 in the late seventies. At that time it revolutionised the paddy production by local standards. It had the unique property of least shattering while handling the harvest and would ripe before the cold of winter started. Per- hectare yield of K-39 is 6.5 tons.

Was it possible to increase the yield further? “Yes, indeed it was possible and we proved it”, said Dr Gulzar Singh Sanghera, Assistant Professor (Plant breeding and Genetics) at RRS Khudwani. “K-39 was for the lower belts and we introduced many high altitude varieties as well. The introduction of the varieties like K-429 (Kohsar), SKAU-23 (Chenab), SKAU-27 (Jhelum), Shalimar R-1 improved the production of the crops according to the area they were sown in.”

 “At one point of time, Jhelum was sown over 60 per cent of the cultivated area because it would yield more than 7 tons a hectare,” he adds.

However, the area under its cultivation has shrunk significantly owing to its vulnerability to an epidemic disease known as Paddy Blast. In the early years of this decade, paddy blast devastated a vast area under cultivation of Jhelum variety. The performance of the agriculture department during the Blast period was questioned as immediate measures to control the infection were not taken; neither were farmers informed of the precautions to curb the disease.

“People from the agriculture department reached to my fields when paddy blast had wreaked havoc on it,” complains Shamim Ahmad of Dialgam, Islamabad. But Bhan is not ready to accept the complaint. “We do monitor crops in all the regions and any problem at the field level is immediately taken care of. And if for any reason we could not reach out to any area, farmers there should inform us beforehand to solve the problem at its initial stage,” he said.

Dr K N Singh

Interestingly, Dr K N Singh differs from Bhan on this count. “Agriculture department is the link between SKUAST and the farmer. What we see practically is that this link is almost missing. Our efforts in the lab (oratory) take ages to reach farmer at his land due to the lethargic and non- serious attitude of the department,” says Dr Singh. “We also do not receive feedback from the department that could have enhanced our efforts while doing research in different fields in the university.”

Despite being near to Punjab, which has become the granary of north India, the implements and latest technology used there have not reached here.  Even the mechanisation of the agriculture has not started yet in the state particularly Kashmir valley. “I was astonished to see people here not knowing what a harvesting machine looks like. The peasants, to whom we demonstrated the use of harvesting machine, could not believe that there is such an easy solution to the cutting of rice and wheat available to them,” says Darbari Singh, Marketing Executive of BCS India, Ludhiana. BCS India markets harvesting machines manufactured in Italy.

Introduction of harvesting and transplanting machines in the state can revolutionise the agricultural sector. “Mechanisation of agriculture will definitely benefit us in many ways. Firstly, the imported labour (Biharis) that amounts to a huge drain of capital will be brought to the minimum level. It will also reduce the dependency of the agricultural sector on outside labour. Secondly, the farmer will take an utmost interest in farming activities as there will be fewer expenses, lesser manual work at the field and more harvest in the end”, opines Bashir Ahmad Mir, Agricultural Assistant, in Budgam.

A major challenge, that agriculture in the state faces, is the construction boom going in the prime agricultural land. “Even if we bring high yielding varieties that can produce 12 tons a hectare and at the same time go on squeezing the paddy land, we will never meet our local demand,” says Singh.

“We have an area of 1, 70,000 hectares under rice cultivation in the state,” says Andrabi. Interestingly, revenue department claims that the area under rice cultivation has increased in 2007-08 (2, 63,250 ha) as compared to 2006-07 (2, 52,520 ha) which anyway is miles away from what agriculture department puts it. “The revenue department is making a crass mistake in showing the area under rice cultivation increasing instead of decreasing. You see construction mania is in full swing everywhere and still, they keep telling that lie,” blurts Mir. In some areas, it has shrunk to a few hundred hectares. In Shopian only 556 hectares are under the cultivation of rice now.

“If the government does not come out with a strident policy to stop the construction activities in agricultural land, we surely are heading to a disaster. The imports will go on increasing, dependency will exacerbate and finally, we will have to pray for the well being of paddy fields of Punjab to have our meal,” foresees Mir.


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