Vanishing Farmlands Kashmir is losing 228 kanals of agriculture

  • Haroon Mirani
  • Publish Date: Jan 19 2016 3:08PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 17 2016 5:27PM
Vanishing Farmlands Kashmir is losing 228 kanals of agriculture

In 2011, Ghulam Nabi Sheikh (name changed) of Ganderbal thought he had had enough of agriculture; his two sons with white collar jobs were least interested in carrying the agrarian work and his own health was failing. He did what everybody around him was doing. Of around 12 kanals of land he owned, half went under a shopping complex and the other half was acquired by government for constructing a hospital.

In the twin deals, Sheikh made millions and lived a life of luxury, until last year when floods hit Kashmir. The millionaire Sheikh found himself among the many people waiting patiently in long queues to get the subsidized ration. Though Ganderbal was not much affected by floods but elsewhere the deluge destroyed crops and huge rice stores, plunging Kashmir into food grain crisis.

Sheikh had made huge property and had enough money but he lost the self-reliance in food grains. “From my father I had heard about food crisis hitting Kashmir during the olden times due to failure of crops. In my time we never faced shortage of rice. Earlier I produced enough rice and later I got it from market with money. But after floods we had no produce of our own and markets too were empty,” said Sheikh. “Despite having money, I couldn’t get rice from anywhere and I realized two things – how poor I was and the worth of farmland.”

Sheikh is not the only one who has done away with his farmland. The situation is alarming all over Kashmir. The worrying factor is that the rate of conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes has galloped since the last few years.

SHRINKING AGRICULTURE LAND

In 1981, the total area under paddy cultivation in Kashmir was at record 166,000 hectares and the same decreased to 158,000 hectares in 2012 shrinking the fertile land by 8000 hectares in three decades. Going by the figures, it doesn’t look much of a decrease but what came after 2012 has disrupted all calculations. During the last three years the valley has lost 16650 hectares of paddy land reducing the current area under rice cultivation to 141,350 hectares.

In these five years, Kashmir has witnessed a mad rush of converting agricultural land into other purposes. On an average, the valley has lost 228 kanals of land per day to non-agricultural purposes, which in an ideal situation should have scared the entire government.

In just three years Kashmir has lost double the agricultural land, which was lost in last three decades.

With current rate (5550 hectares per year), Kashmir is set to lose all of its paddy land in next 25 years. By 2040, the valley will be bereft of any agricultural land to cultivate rice and one could possibly see concrete jungle trespassed by orchards.

All over India there is a trend of land conversion, but Kashmir looks like a record breaker in its comparison. According to a report, from 2007-08 to 2010-11 the agricultural land all over India decreased by a minuscule percentage from 182.4 million hectares to 182 million hectares.

Experts worry that Sheikh’s food crisis last year could become the collective fate of entire Kashmir if the unabated conversion of agricultural land continues. The 2014 floods was the trailer of a possible future. Kashmir lost most of its rice production pushing food deficit to astronomical 81 percent.

FOOD DEFICIT

The floods, which occurred in September before the onset of harvesting season, destroyed around a quarter of total food grains produced in Kashmir. According to official figures, the total food grain production (primarily rice) in Kashmir division in 2014 was reduced to just 2.4 lac MT in comparison to 2013’s figure of 9.57 lac MT. The total requirement of food grains estimated by agriculture department is 12.96 lac MTs and in comparison with the production last year, Kashmir is experiencing a food deficit of 81.50 percent, which literally will continue till the crops of 2015 are harvested.

According to officials, it is for the first time that the food deficit has reached such proportions, thus affecting almost entire population of 76.38 lac people in Kashmir division. In 1950-51, the food deficit was just 32 percent, which later plunged to 23 percent in 1980-81 due to advancement in agriculture. The highest deficit, which the department has recorded in the recent past, was in 2011-12 when the food production stood at 8.26 lac MT against the requirement of 12.60 lac MTs leaving a deficit of 34 percent, but way better than last year.

As Kashmir’s own production almost vanished, people have been entirely dependent on the outside supply since 2014. And when the supply gets disrupted due to closure of highway, the situation turns into a question of starvation at some places.

According to official figures, agriculture and allied services employ anywhere between 70 to 80 percent of people in the state. In case the farmlands vanish, it will be a catastrophic situation for state’s economy too, spiking the already high unemployment rate. Agriculture, which once contributed more than half to the entire Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP), is now barely making a quarter. From 2004-05 to 2014-15 the agriculture share in GSDP has gone down from 28.06 to 17.49 percent. With no progress being observed in this vital sector, the coming years will witness further decline.

“The situation is serious for Kashmir. We are heading towards a disaster,” said Dr. Mohammed Yousuf Zargar, Dean Faculty of Agriculture, SKUAST. “If the trend continues our food security will be eliminated and we will have to import everything from outside. We will be placed on a vulnerable cliff.”

In a changed geopolitical situation, what if the region has no purchasing power or the highway gets blocked for weeks. The question is haunting the experts.

Zargar says that the transformation has happened in front of everybody and still the current system has failed to stop it. “I remember going from Sopore to Shalimar and on the way upto HMT, everywhere there were rice fields,” said Zargar. “Now buildings have sprung up everywhere up to Narbal. The pace of these constructions frightens me.”

UNPLANNED DEVELOPMENT

Hard to imagine but even in Srinagar enough land was under rice cultivation. “Lal Bazar was known for its rice fields and nowadays there is not enough space for roads too,” said Zargar.

Despite stringent laws, Sheikh found it easy to convert his fertile agriculture land thanks to the famous trick of revenue officials. “Whenever we have to construct anything on agricultural land, we simply bribe revenue officials who declare it non-agriculture land,” said Sheikh. “And then we can do anything with the land, which nowadays is being seen as best suited for constructions.”

From monetary benefit to lack of living space, there are many reasons for the continuous shrinking of agricultural land, but the most important factor remains the unplanned development.

“No rule is followed and nobody cares. One small anomaly ignored leads to another and then ultimately results in mega disaster,” said Ghulam Hassan Mir, divisional town planner. “People need buildings as well as money, and it forces farmers to sacrifice their land. Under planned constructions, we would still be using agricultural land, but it would be far more efficient and judicious, unlike in unplanned construction where sometimes up to 90 percent of resources are laid waste.”

Mir terms Kashmir as a unique place as it has almost no wasteland thus making planning necessary. “Like Ladakh or Madhya Pradesh, we don’t have vast tracts of wastelands for making new houses or industries, so whatever we have, it has to be used efficiently,” said Mir.

The diminishing returns from farmlands have also been pushing next generation away. With average landholdings of 0.67 hectares per farmer, Kashmir is at the bottom of ownership scale in entire India.

“Small landholding also decreases the prospect of mechanization,” said Zargar. “Youths don’t want to dirty their hands in mud, so we have to add glamour to agriculture. That can be done with machines as we have equipment right from seeding to harvesting work. But when a farmer has just 10 kanals of land, he won’t spend lakhs on such machines.”

The average yield of rice in Kashmir is way below the optimum levels. “On an average we get 40-50 quintals per hectare with rice varieties approved from SKUAST and with non SKUAST varieties we get 30-35 quintals per hectare,” said Zargar. “Our seed replacement rate is pathetic. I guess just 15 percent of our rice come from high yielding varieties. SKUAST has done its job for producing good seeds, now it is up to the government to make people adopt it.”

In 2012 a farmer in Bihar made a world record when he achieved a yield of 22.4 ton (224 quintal) per hectare. Never has been such a record ever made in Kashmir, despite the presence of one of the best fertile lands. “Only three things will change the situation – better incentives (inputs, seeds, packages etc), mechanization, increased minimum support price,” said Zargar. “This will highly increase the yield and stop farmers from selling their land as it will be golden egg laying goose.”

Government is well aware of the situation but seems unable to act against it. During the budget session, Minister for Agriculture Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura while answering a question in state assembly expressed extreme concern over shrinking of agricultural land in Jammu and Kashmir. Despite the laws in place, Hanjura emphasized the need to make more stringent laws to stop conversion of agricultural land.

“The shrinking of agricultural land is the biggest challenge before the government and it is the need of the hour to take some effective steps in this regard,” said Hanjura.

In 2012, the J&K High Court, while hearing a public interest litigation from a non-governmental organization, passed directions to stop all constructions on the agricultural land. Jammu and Kashmir Agrarian Act and the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act also ensure protection of the valuable land. But the laws and orders are never implemented on ground.