The Shrinking Paddy Fields of Kashmir

  • Muneeb Yousuf
  • Publish Date: Nov 25 2018 10:41AM
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  • Updated Date: Nov 25 2018 10:41AM
The Shrinking Paddy Fields of KashmirPhoto: KashmirInk

Located in the lap of Pirpanchal mountains, Kulgam is a picturesque  area in South of the Kashmir valley with abundant fresh water streams and springs. Apart from being home to gushing waterways, Kulgam, once regarded as the rice bowl of Kashmir, is rapidly losing this status. The paddy land is increasingly being converted for housing, horticultural and industrial purposes thus drastically reducing the rice production. This phenomenon is not only restricted to Kulgam but is widely seen across the Kashmir valley. A strong concern indeed.  

The road from Wanpoh to Kulgam runs through open fields that turns from yellow of mustard crops in the spring to the pale green of ripening of rice in the autumn. The aura that the landscape leaves on the minds of travelers is beyond description. It takes one to an altogether different world that resembles the Scandinavian countries. However, for the last one decade, the scenic fields on either side of the road and the inner fields have come up with massive construction and transformation of paddy land into horticulture one. This has not only impinged the aesthetic aura but has made people more dependent on rice import. 

Agriculture being important occupation of the Valley contributes 20 percent of state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Rice is the most important agricultural crop of the valley. Apart from being the staple food of the inhabitants of the valley, the rice crop has a rich cultural heritage that goes deep down the annals of Kashmir history. Kashmir is not self-sufficient in rice. As a result, the state has to import large quantity for domestic consumption. The state has an estimated annual requirement of around 11 lakh tons of rice against current production of just 5.5 lakh tons. The shortfalls are met through imports from the neighbouring states. In this context, any peasant cultivating just few kilograms of rice in any remote corner of the Valley is doing great national service. Had there been no improved varieties of rice, our production would have remained too meagre against its greater demand.  Hats off to scientists involved in rice research, the new varieties bred have potential as high as 100 quintals per hectare. This effort has come to safeguard the state of Jammu and Kashmir despite shrinkage of paddy fields. 

The peasants in Kulgam apart from producing rice for their own families used to sell several quintals of rice each to private dealers and the government. It is important to mention here that in the past, the revenue department forcibly purchased rice from peasants that government referred as Khush Khareed (happy purchase). However, this Khush Khareed literally went against the wishes of peasants because the revenue department payed peasants less than the market rate and thus the deal was more of exploitative in character. With the passage of time, the power of revenue department on the production of rice vanished in thin air and the peasants were now exclusively in control of their harvested crop that they stored in kuchhis. In the spring, the peasants used to sell extra rice to private dealers that not only determined the wherewithal of sustenance by peasants for themselves but also an agency that made the administration to import less quantity of rice. Nowadays the irony is that these peasants have become entirely dependent on government ration that they earlier considered to be of sub-standard quality. 

 

Making Sense of Shrinking Paddy Fields

 

The vast tracts of paddy land in Kulgam have been converted for horticultural and commercial purposes. The cultivation of rice has a deep cultural heritage, yet the peasants are increasingly finding it less profitable in present times. “Amieh sieth chu asieh sirf guzaar sabdaan” [By paddy cultivation we are just able to fetch our bellies] said Ghulam Mohammad Lone of Bogund Kulgam.  The alternatives of growing crops other than rice in which profits are high, has persuaded large number of peasants in Kulgam to switch for horticulture sector. “The expenditure involved in paddy cultivation is high and the returns are low” remarked Bashir Ahmad Dar of Srandoo Kulgam. “From labor cost to fertilizers and pesticides, we don’t even get half the money that we invest for paddy cultivation” said Abdul Rashid Koul, who transformed his paddy fields into horticultural one. “If family X plants apple trees in their piece of paddy land, all the families surrounding become naturally compelled to follow the suite––thus naturally leading to shrinkage of paddy fields” stated Gulzar Ahmad Dar. For Ashik Hussain Lone, apple orchard becomes a rationale of taking amount varying from 1 Lakh to 5 Lakhs from Arhatia ahead of fruit season, and this is entirely non-existent in case of paddy. “And which businessman will provide me any cash for paddy harvesting? Lone added. For Mohammad Iqbal Reshie and Mushtaq Ahmad Reshie, rice cultivation was reduced to periodic exercises of planting rice seedlings and harvesting with no major output that could change their lives for any good. The signing of land lease agreement by Reshie brothers with a tiles factory has significantly changed the annual outcome for the duo. A number of peasants have also converted their land into brick kilns. This is a big concern with unimaginable repercussions. 

A rough evaluation reveals that the expenditure including labor in one quintal of milled rice is between Rs 3500-4000 and a farmer gets meagre amount of Rs 2000-2500. In comparison to this, other sectors yield good dividends. Keeping these issues into consideration, there is a need to ponder on how to retain peasants and rural youth under paddy cultivation.

 

Measures to be taken

 

In order to retain peasants under paddy cultivation, the government needs to intervene at the earliest with a certain framework that will come as respite to paddy growers. There is a need to bring in humanistic approach to a peasant engaged in paddy cultivation, who toils hard in his field but gains less profit. The government should provide subsidized fertilizers and pesticides to peasants that would in turn reduce the investment cost. There is a need to link harvested crops with corporate sector. Bringing in reputed companies, good tags and proper packaging will bring the peasants hard work in parity with the market value goods. The story of Mushkbudji is worth to mention here. The farmers of Sagam collaborated with SKUAST-Kashmir and Sarveshwar Organic Foods Limited, Jammu to revive much important Mushkbudji that was slowly drifting towards extinction.

 

Role of SKUAST

 

The contribution of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST) in rice research is immense. From time to time, it has developed new varieties of seeds. The local varieties bred produce just 160 kgs per kanal. However, the varieties bred at Khudwani station of SKUAST which include SR-1, SR-2, SR-3, SR-4, SR-5, Jehlum have a potential of 400-500 kgs per kanal. The visibility of this station is evident in the farmer’s field. The development department of the state shall bring most of the area under these high yielding varieties. 

The increasing use of paddy land for residential purposes in Valley results due to the absence of housing policy. The wilful shift from paddy cultivation to horticultural sector can be understood in the realm of decent earning that the peasants make in the latter. The state seems to be in a no mood of taking any measure of stopping shrinking paddy fields. There is a need to bring in strict measures for building infrastructures in the paddy fields.