New Agriculture Policy

With the primary sector shrinking in size and space, encouraging migrations at the grassroots level, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has come up with a policy to double the output and get the sector back to the base of an agrarian society, reports Masood Hussain

With nearly two-thirds population in Jammu and Kashmir directly linked to agriculture, the crisis in the primary sector is yet to be acknowledged. In the last 35 years, the contribution of Jammu and Kashmir’s agrarian sector to the State Gross Domestic Product (SGDP) has fallen from 35 per cent in 1996 to 18.4 per cent in 2020. In a GSDP of Rs 204125 crore, the primary sector is contributing only Rs 37559 crore – of which, Rs 15413 crore comes from horticulture, Rs 12634 crore from livestock and animal husbandry and a paltry Rs 9512 crore is the contribution of the basic agriculture.

The situation is impacting the overall economic well-being. The net sown area across Jammu and Kashmir has fallen from 70 per cent of the available arable land to 68.46 per cent in the last few years. The yield of rice per hectare has gone down by around three tons. The population living below the poverty line (BPL) is gradually surging. It was 10.35 per cent in 2017-18 and in 2020-21, it was put at 12.58 per cent. The worst part is that the rural BPL population has surged from 11.54 per cent to 16.39 per cent even though the urban poverty has halved – from 7.20 per cent to 3.50 per cent.

Climate change is taking its toll and denting the capacities further. The adverse market reaction to the bumper, scab-free apple crop, the key driver of the peripheral economy, is expected to hugely reduce the incomes as margins have shrunken to an all-time low. The Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD) that has triggered mass morbidity in animal husbandry is adding to the tensions. Even though the officials suggest that the disease is killing only four per cent of the infected cows, the numbers could be huge and the costs immense for the peripheral economy.

Coinciding with all these factors, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has formulated a new policy document with a focus on pushing the inherent capacities of the agriculture sector to a level where the yield per year goes from Rs 37559 crore to Rs 65701 crore in a few years. This upgrade, officials believe would take care of the livelihoods of 13 lakh farming families, and create 18861 additional enterprises, which will offer nearly 288 thousand additional jobs.

The Background

In July 2022, the administration organized a Multi-Stakeholder Convention for the holistic development of Agriculture and Allied Sectors, on basis of which an 8-member apex committee was constituted under Mangla Rai, former Director General of ICAR with a task to frame a comprehensive agriculture policy. The Committee was asked to offer a blueprint for converting subsistence agriculture into a sustainable commercial sector; create an agri-business eco-system with an in-built value chain; promote risk management through diversification and smart agriculture; introduce technology; adopt peasant and community-centric approach for holistic development and ideate efficient bio-resource use for food, feed and industry. Besides, the ACS (Agriculture) Atul Dulloo, the Vice Chancellors of the two agriculture universities (SKUAST-J/K) were the only two members of the committee from Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha presented a Saffron tray in full bloom to the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi on November 13, 2022.

The Committee cleared a series of projects early this month. Not only did the Committee offer a complete analysis of the inherent strengths of agriculture and the opportunities it, it also looked at the weaknesses and the threats it encounters.

Inherent Strengths

The Committee saw water-abundant Jammu and Kashmir’s strengths in its soil, biodiversity, micro-climatic variations, a number of niche crops, educated human resources and a scalable research and development window. Besides, a  lot of supportive infrastructures exist in Jammu and Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir is the address for almost 70 per cent of apples and 95 per cent of cherries in India, besides nearly all the walnut, almond and saffron production. Most Kashmir crops fetch better costs in routine market situations in comparison to the same varieties grown elsewhere.

The key sector, however, is confronted with a series of issues that can have a serious impact on its sustainability on a long-term basis.

Shrinking Lands

Given the population boom, Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir has very limited land resources. Post-land-to-tiller, the landholding is shrinking fast. In 2005-06, Jammu and Kashmir had 1377808 land holdings and 59.34 per cent were not more than half a hectare (one hectare is 20 kanals); 22.16 per cent were up to one hectare and 12.28 per cent holdings were up to 2 hectares.

Five years after, the landholdings in Jammu and Kashmir were at 1449397 and 62.92 per cent were less than half a hectare; 20.33 per cent were up to a hectare and only 11.53 per cent were up to two hectares.

The fall in the size of the landholding is creating a new mess – the smaller the size, the least non-remunerative it becomes for a family. This is triggering sort of an exodus from the primary sector to the service sector and, in most cases; a lot of lands is not being cultivated. Many experts believe that this also contributes to the conversion of land from agriculture to horticulture, low penetration of mechanisation and poor resource use efficiency.

The Committee has acknowledged the poor market structure; it has avoided terming it exploitative, and the absence of a value chain.

Bank Credit

However, the Committee’s flagging of “poor access to institutional credit” is a hugely debated issue.

By October 31, 2022, the overall advances in the agriculture sector is Rs 10771 crore of which Rs 6982.46 crore is the farm credit; Rs 1998.75 is the term loan; Rs 983.54 crore is advanced to infrastructure development in agriculture and another cache of Rs 806.51 crore is for ancillary activities within the agriculture sector. Of the entire agriculture lending outstanding on this date, Rs 8109.62 crore is with the small and marginal farmers across Jammu and Kashmir. An amount of Rs 1047.58 crore has been set as the gross NPA by the entire banking sector, which makes 9.73 per cent of the cumulative loan book.

Agriculture contributes 18.4 per cent to the SGDP availing 11.77 per cent of the overall credit is not unfair, given the peasant aversion against indebtedness and many cultural issues involved with the bank credit.

Land Stress

But the threats confronting the sector are hugely challenging. The land is under stress from society as well as the government. Apart from inter-sectoral land use conversion, the population boom is pushing people to use the marginal land holding for housing purposes.

The emphasis on development is adding to the crisis. In July 2022, Nityanand Rai, the junior Home Minister told the Lok Sabha: “As per the information provided by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, State land (including Khalsa Sarkar, Kahchrie, Shamilat, etc) measuring 2359.45 hectares has been acquired by the government for various public purposes such as roads, including National Highways, railways, schools/colleges, playgrounds, parks, buildings, soil waste management, border fencing/border outposts, industrial estates etc.”  It is almost half a lakh kanals of land, most of which was under different crops regardless of the status of the land.

However, the biggest threat that the sector faces is climate change. The Western Disturbances have converted Kashmir into a peculiar crucible as a result of which the massive pollution is increasing melting of glaciers, an untimely surge in water discharge and deficient water availability during the peak sowing season. Parts of Kashmir experienced nightmarish days as the paddy started rotting till the rain gods pleased.

This, however, does not cloud the immense opportunities that the sector holds. Off-season agriculture, vertical farming, the Kashmir brand, export quality material and huge possibility for processing are some of the key ideas that can improve the net output. The Committee suggest that organising peasantry into self-help groups (SHG), farmer producer organisations (FPO), commodity interest groups (CIG), farmer interest groups (FIG) and village production organisations (VPO) can have a multiplying impact on the system of marketing agricultural products.

Way Forward

With these strengths and weaknesses, the Committee has prescribed a way forward to get the agriculture sector to move from Rs 37559 crore to Rs 65701 crore in a year – a CARG of 11.08 per cent. CAGR is the compound annual growth rate envisaging the rate of return (RoR) for an investment to grow from its beginning balance to its ending balance, assuming the profits were reinvested at the end of each period of the investment’s life span.

Seed Development is the first major area. The Committee believes Jammu and Kashmir is 65 per cent seed deficient as a result of which there is a capital flight of Rs 500 crore every year. In order to make this area a Rs 11404 crore business, the Committee suggested the creation and incentivisation of primary seed producers and involving them in PPP mode and offering better R&D, efficient seed market chain and protected cultivation. This will create 500 enterprises comprising primary seed producers (PSP) and 12000 secondary seed producers (SSP), together triggering 20,000 new jobs.

The Committee has laid emphasis on the development and deployment of new varieties. For realising higher crop productivity, the varietal replacement rate (VRR) and seed replacement rate (SRR) requires to be chased against set targets so that small land patches can have better yields.

The Committee has identified a set of niche crops including saffron, red chilli, basmati rice, Bhaderwah beans, Kala Zera and many others for which authorities will have to recreate or relocate commercial value chains. It has found that these crops suffer from a lack of quality planting material.

The idea envisages adding 11100 hectares under cultivation of these crops, getting them GI linked and creating 5182 new nurseries in 44 seed villages and helping them with a spice park, two modern rice mills and a chain of 11 processing units and the creation of seven saffron societies. With these interventions, the Committee believes the niche crop area will grow from the current Rs 945 crore to Rs 2238 crore thus achieving a CAGR of 18 per cent from the current five per cent.

Barring saffron, all these niche crops are not in the organised sector so many people are surprised about the turnover, this sub-area manages.

On vegetables, the Committee acknowledges Jammu and Kashmir’s seasonal dependence on imports to manage demand and insists the low productivity is linked to the peasantry’s lack of knowledge about high-tech farming. It has been suggested that to push the Rs 4840 crore sector to reach Rs 8021 crore – a CAGR of 10.6 per cent –  the government must have interventions including horizontal and vertical expansion of vegetable crops, off-season vegetable cultivation, and popularising precision-farming techniques.

These interventions must lead to the creation of 1100 new hi-tech greenhouses, and 3548 new poly-houses (vegetable nurseries) so that production jumps from 1991 thousand metric tonnes (tmt) to2587 tmt and increase the cropping intensity from 165 to 250 per cent. At the end of the fifth year, the Committee believes Jammu and Kashmir will be a vegetable surplus of 68000 mts.

In order to strengthen the agricultural marketing and push it up from the existing Rs 314 crore with a CAGR of 2.3 per cent to Rs 603 crore at  a

CAGR of 13.7 per cent, the Committee has emphasised market reforms, infrastructure development and institution building. For this, it intends to add 65000 mts of controlled atmosphere storage, 12 high-tech grading lines, 25 mini-cold stores, four new fruit markets (Samba, Reasi, Kishtwar and Bandipora), two Agriculture Branding Centres and a marketing intelligence cell.

This, the Committee believes will reduce value loss by 70 per cent, increase farmers’ income by 45 per cent and reduce food wastage.

A group photograph showing the scholars, farmers and representatives of industry in CSIR-IIIM interaction in Pulwama. The photograph was taken in the lavender farm on June 13, 2022

The Committee has put up an ambitious plan for medical and aromatic plants (MAP) that currently has a negative CAGR but intends to be a Rs 783 crore sub-sector in 15 years. The area lacks adequate R&D, harvesting and post-harvest management and branding. It wants 5000 kanals of land to be brought under MAP cultivation and create 28 MPA farmer clusters across Jammu and Kashmir. It sees reduced stress on forests and the value chain by these interventions with an additional 3000 jobs coming up.

For pushing beekeeping to reach Rs 682 crore from the existing Rs 69 crore, the Committee has identified the diminishing population of native bees, lack of migration practices and less productivity as the key challenges. The interventions suggested include strengthening and distribution of bee colonies through Clusters and SHGs, production of nucleus stock and bee breeders, R&D and setting up of GI laboratories.

This, the Committee believes will lead to increasing bee population to half a million in 143 thousand colonies, taking production from 2200 tons to 6610 tons thus generating Rs 475 crore.

The Committee puts the existing strength of mushrooms at Rs 21 crore and intends to take it to Rs 120 crore. It has suggested setting up 26 pasteurized compost-making units, 72 controlled condition cropping rooms, 10 spawn production labs, 150 thousand pasteurized compost bags and 300 mushroom sheds, four mushroom canning and pickling units, 60 solar drying units, 300 women SHGs and improving the skill of 6600 farmers. These interventions will take the mushroom output from 2100 tons to 7800 tons and increase the mushrooming growers from 2570 to 6610.

On commercial floriculture, the Committee has said that with a paltry Rs 29 crore turnover in a Rs 15000 crore sector in India, Jammu and Kashmir is losing a lot. It has suggested a revival of closed units, capacity building and area expansion. It wants 54 nursery units to be upgraded, 150 units re-operationalised, and adding 400 hectares so that overall cultivation reaches 587 hectares, floating 330 new enterprises. The project would require planting 27 crore ornamental plants and 12 crore lavender plants every year.

Insisting that in Jammu and Kashmir, 55 per cent of the production cost goes into the protection of crops by use of pesticides, the Committee has suggested creating cluster-based model orchards, popularising advanced spraying technology. This will lead to the creation of 10 cluster model high-density plantation orchards, 20 custom hiring centres for spraying machines, and 100 agri-entrepreneurs for bio-pesticide production. These interventions will reduce 90 per cent of pesticide usage and almost 40 per cent in production costs.

In horticulture, the entire focus is on high-density plantations. With the emphasis on taking the Rs 10,000 crore turnover sector to Rs 15000 crore, the Committee suggest that Jammu and Kashmir will have to come out of 90 per cent dependence on imported plant material for which 200 nurseries are required. It lays emphasis on the production of elite planting material, mechanization, automation and protected cultivation besides the rejuvenation of traditional orchards. It has suggested 11 million plantations by adding 7500 hectares. These ideas will increase productivity by 200 per cent.

The Committee has put food processing turnover at Rs 2611 crore and intends to make it Rs 3616 crore. The suggestions include seven products in 17 districts in clusters, which can produce 20 lakh mts of produce. It wants Rs 50 crore investment each in five mega clusters for milk, walnut, meat, vegetables and basmati rice. Besides it has suggested a Rs 25 crore cluster for cherry and Rs 12.50 crore for trout fish. This infrastructure with cluster branding and GI tagging will generate revenue of Rs 1436.04 crore in four years.

Putting the diary sector turnover at Rs 9000 crore, the Committee suggests that for achieving a Rs 15600 crore turnover, Jammu and Kashmir will have to give up the practice of importing 20000 dairy animals of unknown merit every year. It has flagged a large dairy population with low productivity and only 30 per cent of dairy animals being provided breeding coverage.

For enhancing milk production by strengthening grassroots dairy and augmenting milk chilling and processing Capacity, the Committee wants an increase in artificial insemination centres from 1389 to 2189 through 800 private AI workers, creating 400 satellite heifer rearing units and getting 70 per cent cattle within breeding coverage. This will improve per-animal productivity from 2400 litres per annum to 4300 LPA and push milk production to increase from 26 Lakh metric tons to 44 LMT.

Jammu and Kashmir has a 41 per cent mutton deficit and has an annual import bill of around Rs 1400 crore. Putting the goat and sheep sector turnover at Rs 1920 crore, the Committee intends to take it to Rs 3500 crore. It has suggested a vertical upgrade, import of mutton breeds, 72 breeding farms and a long list of other interventions including creating 400 commercial farms every year.

Jammu and Kashmir is a huge poultry-consuming area. It purchased poultry for Rs 1273 crore from neighbouring states a year, the Committee has said, insisting the deficit is at 50 per cent. The local production is worth Rs 709 crore and the Committee wants it to go up to Rs 1982 crore.

Suggestions include creating a facility for a day-old broiler chick, manufacturing commercial feed locally and improving egg production through commercial and backyard farming. It has suggested establishing 35 feed manufacturing units, 125 breeder farms and hatcheries, 200 layer farms of 10000 capacity each, raring one crore birds under backyard systems and 60 crore eggs and 6500 MT of free-range meat.

The Committee sees a lot of scope in fish production in water-abundant Jammu and Kashmir so that it jumps from Rs 105 sub-sector to Rs 589 crore business. For this, it is seeking the introduction of a “genetically improved variety of fish seed” – one crore eyed-ova from Sweden, establishment and upgradation of hatcheries and a robust post-harvest management system. This will help in seed production increase from 15 to 30 million in trout and 62 to 100 million in carp at 10 new and 12 modernized hatcheries, construction of 1100 raceways, setting up four cold storage cum ice plants and 13 new fish feed mills.

Asserting that Jammu and Kashmir produces the finest wool in India, the Committee sees a potential of adding Rs 135 crore to the SR sector every year. Apart from reviving the Wool Bard, the Committee suggest the creation of common facilitation centres. It has emphasised organising 40 FPOs involved in the aggregation and processing of wool and pelt and liking them with 20 CFCs for extending primary processing facilities.

On the feed and fodder front, the Committee has flagged Jammu and Kashmir’s 41 per cent deficit and highlighted that 75 per cent of raring birds, fish or animals goes to feeding only. For improving the situation, the Committee has suggested some innovations in green fodder production, genetic improvement of fodder crops and many other things. The output of the intervention would eventually envisage farmer demo plots on 4100 hectares a year, the creation of 300 hay-silage units, 25 fodder depots, 500 hydroponic units with an output of 15,000 metric tonnes of green fodder, 15 lac metric tonnes of fodder from 60,000 ha orchards and 375 lac MT of fodder from forest closures of 25,000 hectares.

= There are a lot of suggestions on mechanisation and automation and identification of certain areas of activity that have rarely been looked into earlier.

Interacting with the stakeholders at Jammu, where the presentation was cursorily discussed, the Lt Governor, Manoj Sinha talked about the “killer instinct” for making the blueprint happen. Before his administration goes on a long drive for its implementation, it needs to be put in the public domain so that it is discussed and stakeholders make suggestions. The ideas may require fine-tuning.

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