Kashmir has been bestowed by nature in many ways. Be it our scenic beauty of mountains, meadows, water bodies, grasslands, glaciers to our distinct climatic conditions. Being a temperate region and having very unique climatic conditions from rest of the country, we are having an edge to excel in the cultivation of temperate fruits and other important crops not only at national level but at international level too.
This signifies the importance of Horticulture sector that is one of the emerging industry in the state and has an ability to boost the state economy. Let’s discuss about this sector-its past, present and future and the challenges ahead:
For decades together people here were mainly practicing the cultivation of paddy, wheat, maize, pulses, etc to sustain their lives. However, whatever a farmer was giving in (input) he was not getting that much (output)-both quality as well as yield recorded was very low. This forced the people to adopt new ways of farming and horticulture became one of the alternative.
Although, horticulture was practiced on very small area due to lack of facilities during those days but this sector got popularized only in recent past. The people took this profession to earn more and more, to live a dignified life and to make best use of their land.
At present horticulture is one of the major sector among agriculture and its allied fields that contributes significantly to the Gross State Domestic Production (GSDP).This sector contributes immensely to strengthen the financial condition of our state.
At present the annual turnover of this sector is nearly Rsthree billion(that is approx. 47 million USD) While as this sector earns foreign exchange of over Rs 800 million(that is about 30 million USD). About 25-35percent of our population (i.e. about 4.5 lakh families) are either directly (farmers) or indirectly (transporters, traders, processors, etc) attached with this sector. It’s having the history of serving the people during the period of turmoil when everything was at standstill.
Around 20 percent of the arable land of the state is under horticultural crops. Among horticultural crops in the state, Apple (The King Of Temperate Fruits) occupies the predominant position constituting about 45percent of total area under fruit crops, (Area- 162971 ha; Production- 1726834MT- 2016-17 by JK Deptt of Horticulture).
At national level too, the percentage share of horticultural output is more than 33 percent over last decade while as the area under cultivation grew by 2.7 percent per annum and annul production increased by 7percent.
Moreover out of six categories (fruits, vegetables, flowers, aromatic plants, spices, plantation crops) the highest annual growth of 9.5percent is seen in fruit production during 2013-2014. (Source Economic Survey 2015-16 by government of India).
The state is the largest producer of apple in the country while it has monopoly in walnut and almond production. Apple growing is one of the biggest industry in the state that supports a major chunk of rural population.
The apples of Valley are known throughout the world because of their taste, texture and other attractive properties. Realizing the importance of this sector, the state government separated it from department of agriculture and established a full flagged department of Horticulture.
The future of horticulture is very bright as for as new scientific methods, expertise, etc is available and if these techniques are adopted on scientific pattern at grassroot levels. At present whatever we are harvesting especially in case of apple is not upto the optimum level or the potential we are having. The average productivity is around 10-12 t/ha owing to number of reasons like old, senile and unproductive traditional apple orchards, improper orchard practices, faulty training and pruning system etc.
Inorder to attain the optimum quantity as well as quality of apple we must adopt the modern scientific approach and techniques-the latest being introduction of High Density Apple Plantation (HDP) where we can substantially increase the number of plants from 270/ha in traditional ones up to 3333/ha.
Rejuvenating apple industry
The prime objective of the HDP is to increase the productivity by minimizing the row-row and plant-plant distance inorder to harvest more and more quality produce. This is a new method to be adopted in Kashmir, although this system has been successfully employed in European countries.
It has been estimated that if only 20-25% of the area under apple cultivation is brought under HD farming, over the next 5 years the 3,000 crore industry will expand 5 times to a staggering figure of 15,000 crore. This will increase and open the door for employment to local population
Inorder to achieve this goal the state government started a mission project to implement and pursue farmers to adopt it. For this very reason they procured rootstocks from Holland upto the tune of 1.73 crore and got them planted at Zainapora (Shopian) and SKUAST-K.
Moreover, the state government introduced a policy on 50:50 basis where in the government will bear 50percent installation cost for the desirous farmers who want to go for HDP. For its successful implementation there must be a close coordination among all concerned stakeholders (line departments, SKUAST-K, Jammu Kashmir Government and above all farmers).
The university on its part is efficiently playing the technical part to make HDP a successful project. At present the University has laid the demonstration trials at its Shalimar campus in collaboration with the experts from Holland who provide technical knowhow and other related practical knowledge to the university.
During the very 1st year about six tonnes of harvest was obtained and in next year if everything goes well it’s expected that about 15-20t/ha can be obtained while as after 5-6 years 50-60t/ha can be harvested which is about five-fold increase to that of our traditional system.
Although, the concept of HDP and its adaptation in the state is very advantageous, however high initial installation costs, assured irrigation facilities, plant protection measures like installation of anti-hail nets, training system, etc and above all to pursue and motivate the farmers (who mostly are illiterate) to give-up the old system remains a big challenge. In our valley most of orchards are rainfed and majority of our farmer community is not aware of scientific techniques.
Keeping in view all these facts, it will be challenging task for the state govt. to commercialize this idea and purse the farmers to adopt it. However, we hope for its successful implementation as this idea will definitely give fillip to our state economy.
Sustainability of our produce
One of the major challenge before us is that our produce should sustain in both domestic as well as in international market because at the end of the day it’s the market that determines the value of our produce.
Take the example of almond which is one of the major nut crop of the state. Due the introduction of Californian almonds (high quality and cheap) in the Indian and international market our almonds lost the market. The farmers were left with no option other than to cut down almond trees.
The summer capital (Srinagar) alone lost 48% of land under the produce and same is the case with other districts. Similar is the story of our Walnuts. Under these circumstances there is the huge responsibility on our prestigious institute (SKUAST-K) to evolve the high quality market oriented varieties.
Lack of extension
This is another hurdle in the successful implementation of modern and advanced scientific techniques. Our research and introduction of new schemes will be of no use, unless and until they do not reach the farmers field because at the end of the day it’s only the farmer who is going to adopt it.
Therefore, it’s very essential that the research from our laboratories and experimental fields must reach the farmers field. In this regard the university and other line departments have to play a leading role to get the farmers trained and to make them familiar with new scientific methods and market interventions.
Especially in case of HDP, it’s of paramount importance to train the farmers as the system needs a totally different approach compared to our traditional farming.
Lack of skilled persons
Although the state government created a new department of Horticulture to boost this sector but there is dearth of trained and skilled persons in the department. The government must involve the skilled horticulturists, horticultural graduates to make this more vibrant.
Lack of marketing facilities:
Due to non-availability of marketing facilities at proper time there is a significant loss of our produce. At present we are running 30-35percent post-harvest losses. Therefore it is very important to provide assured marketing facilities and direct benefits to the farming community as far as “Doubling Farmers Income by 2022” is concerned.
Keeping in view the immense contribution of this prestigious sector we all should work whole heartedly to modernize it. All the bottleneck in the implementation and adaptation of modern horticulture must be removed.
The government on its part should frame and implement farmer friendly policies and the dearth of manpower should be addressed to generate the employment avenues for horticulture students and to make the department more and more vibrant.
The announcement of Horticulture University in the state is a welcome step that will help to focus more on this sector.