Growing Money

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Nursery business has become a major source of livelihood in several Kulgam villages, reports Samreena Nazir

A group working in a plant nursery in Kulgam. KL Image by Samreena Nazir

On a frozen morning of February, Mir Yawar, 21, keeps a count of plum and cherry saplings while his nine labourers are loading the saplings on a truck at Khudwani (Kulgam).  After this is done he gives instructions to labourers on how to handle saplings.

“Don’t throw them from a distance, handle them with care,” says Yawar. Meanwhile, Yawar gets a call from Kullu , Himachal Pradesh, where he has to send the truck loaded with 20,000 saplings.

Yawar’s village Khudwani, lies almost 70 kms from Srinagar towards the south. The road through the village is lined with dense sapling nurseries on both sides. On the boundaries of the nurseries are young boys with shovels in their hands busy removing the saplings.

Khudwani belt has always been known for its soil fertility. This is why SKAUST, the region’s main agriculture university, has established a rice research station in the area. But the ideal soil fertility of the area has made the locals convert their paddy fields into sapling nurseries. Almost all the families in the area are involved in the nursery business focused on saplings.

The sapling nurseries would always fascinate Yawar. In his childhood, he would assist his uncle in grafting and relocating the saplings in his nurseries and would often bring a variety of seeds in his fist to cultivate in his kitchen garden. Although every family in the village is involved in the nursery business, Yawar’s father Mohammad Ismail Mir, who works as an executive officer in Municipal Community Department hardly gets any time for his ancestral profession. Yawar’s siblings are also busy in their respective careers one of whom is a doctorate in Mathematics and the other teaches UPSC aspirants at Jammu.

But Yawar chose to take up the family business. He utilized eight kanal family land and turned it into a sapling nursery.

“The land was earlier taken care of by my uncles. To everyone’s surprise, during school vacations when I was studying in eighth class, I turned the land into the seedling nursery,” he recalls. “However, the decision was not surprising for my parents as they were well aware of my passion”.

Yawar is pursuing BA Hons in English from Degree College Anantnag and is now, the known exporter of saplings in his area. He along with his friends cultivates numerous varieties of apple saplings and seedlings like acacia, pine, elm, plum, pear, cherry, peach, apricot and many other varieties of fruits. Apart from eight kanals of family land, he has taken six kanals on lease to expand his business. Yawar takes saplings to Batote area of Jammu and also exports them to Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh.

“This business demands one’s sweat and blood but at the same time it helps the economy of this belt,” Yawar says. “Even though due to turmoil last year every business was affected but thanks to Almighty our turnover was satisfactory. We earned a profit of Rs 10-12 lakhs”.

Walking between the nurseries from Khudwani, one reaches Matalhama. Although the name of the village finds its place many times in sayings used for silliness in Kashmir, the villagers have proved their savvy in growing saplings. . . The village grows saplings on 90 percent of its land which are later distributed throughout the country.

“Almost everyone in the village whether a shopkeeper, student, labourer or a government employee grows saplings on his land. There are more than 300 nurseries registered by the horticulture department,” says Zahid Ahmad Dar,  24, a farmer.

Four years ago, when Zahid passed his twelfth standard in science stream from a local higher secondary, he got selected for honours in Mathematics at Jamia Milia Islamia, Delhi and also for a course in computer science at Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), Awantipora. But he went for a degree that would boost his knowledge of his ancestral business. He then pursued his bachelor’s in agriculture sciences from Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agriculture and Science Technology (SKUAST), Wadoora Sopore and is currently enrolled in a Masters programme in the same university.

Five kilometres from his home at Matalhama, Zahid struggles to remove apple saplings from the soil. He had sown their seeds 12 months ago. His brother, Arshid Ahmad, standing few meters away from Zahid groups the saplings, which are to be exported to different states. Although, Arshid is the one who helps in the fieldwork, Zahid has an expertise in producing the saplings.

“I have been doing this business since I was in primary school. Now when I work as a security supervisor in J&K Bank I feel no shame in working as a farmer in my fields,” says Arshid. “More so, when you get a good amount of money, what else you want.”.

Earlier, the duo used to supply their harvest to the horticulture department, which distributed it to far-flung areas of J&K. But as the government didn’t pay adequately, they started exporting to other states of India. Zahid and Arshid owned a family land of 10 kanals, and later took 8 more kanals on lease in a nearby village.

“This production requires crop rotation after every two years, depending on the fertility of soil,” says Arshid.

A plant nursery in Kulgam. KL Image by Samreena Nazir

The producers bring the wastage from the juice making factories at  Rangreth and Sopore from which they then, separate the varieties of seeds. The seeds are then put through the refining process and sown in November-December. After four months, when the seed grows to pencil size, grafting is done on them.

Barely one km away from Zahid’s house at Chadder another young man Asif Ahmad Reshi owns a nursery on a 20 kanal of land. Apart from producing high-density cornel rootstock, Asif produces numerous varieties of flowers, which he then sells during spring season.

There are two poly houses inside which clay pots holding un blossomed flowers are organized horizontally. Asif’s father Nisar Ahmad has always been a sapling producer but after his son introduced new techniques in the business, which has enhanced their profit by ten times.

“Nurturing these saplings in this soil was never too difficult but now as our youth have started taking an interest in this business they are introducing new techniques,” said Nisar while patting Asif’s back.

Asif is a B Sc third semester student and has a turnover of more than Rs 30 lakhs. “It is better to generate livelihood for yourself if possible rather than relying on a government job,” Asif says.” “As the famous Kashmiri proverb goes, Bandeh Harkatha kartam Barkatha karai, God helps those, who help themselves”.

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