For lack of experts, organic farming a non-starter in Kashmir

For lack of experts, organic farming a non-starter in Kashmir
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Srinagar: Lack of experts at the district Krishi Vigyan Kendras(KVK) to counsel and guide the farmers has left organic farming a non-starter in the valley, despite an initiative by government in collaboration with SKUAST-K to switch over to eco-friendly farming.
Not a single scientist is available at the district KVKs to help farmers take the leap to eco-friendly farming.
In 2012 Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Science and Technology (SKUAST) Kashmir was mandated to produce organic farming package and provide expert advice to farmers for promotion of organic farming in Kashmir.
However, according to farmers, the initiative was restricted to the four walls of university and media reports, as KVKs, where farmers usually get knowledge about farming methods and techniques, lack any experts.  Not a single scientist was hired during the last four years to provide expert advice to farmers intending to switch over to organic farming in the Valley, sources said.
Mohammad Ibrahim, a farmer from southern Kashmir’s Kulgam district said that he owns 100 kanals of farm land and wishes to shift to organic farming but the non-availability of the expert advice hinders him.
Similarly Abdul Rehman, a vegetable grower from Anantnag, rues the lack of assistance from the agriculture university.
“University (SKUAST) scientists advise us to shift towards organic farming only in the media bulletins. They don’t bother to visit the area and provide us with technical inputs and know-how of methodology for organic farming,” Rehman said.
Last year Governor N N Vohra had directed the SKUAST governing body and scientists to take immediate measures for the introduction and implementation of organic farming in the valley and Ladakh, but sources at the university said, only engage two (organic farming) expert scientists have been engaged so far, “that too in Ladakh (KVK) and Kargil (KVK)”
The Valley which officials concede has great potential for organic farming has not been catered to.
Considered to be nature friendly, Organic farming, relies on use of eco-friendly techniques and products in agriculture, while prohibiting or strictly limiting synthetic (chemical) products.
“It relies on fertilizers of organic origin such as compost, manure, green manure, and bone meal and places emphasis on techniques such as crop rotation and companion planting, biological pest control, mixed cropping and the fostering of insect predators are encouraged,” an official at SKUAST said.
Wishing not to be named, he said that whatever work is being done at the university regarding the introduction and the implementation of organic farming never reaches the fields.
“Even though the university has been making some efforts towards popularizing the organic farming culture but the rural population never benefits because the knowledge generated here hardly reaches to them as no expert advice is provided to the farmers in these areas,” the official said.
Last year, Governor Vohra had also stressed the need to reduce the distance between the laboratory and the fields for the larger interest of farmers. “But his directions were put in the back burner,” the official said.
Vice Chancellor SKUAST- Kashmir, Prof Nazeer Ahmed, while admitting the lack of expert scientists at district KVKs, told Kashmir Reader that the university was planning to train expert scientists “who would be made available in all the districts for creating awareness and providing technical support to the farmers”.
“We don’t have scientists available as of now but we would train few of our staff and deport them to districts to facilitate farmers who are inclined towards organic farming. We are in touch with (Department of Agriculture) Government of India where a program is under consideration for making at least six to 10 people available at the district KVKs for the service of farmers,” Prof Ahmad said.
He said that due to lack of awareness among farming community, less than 10 percent of farmers in Kashmir seem to be interested in switching over to organic farming, but added that the university was making “serious efforts” in promoting the eco friendly farming culture in the entire region.
“We have set-up units for making bio-pesticides/fertilizers to avoid chemical fertilizers and have prepared inputs for mixed cropping, crop rotation, companion planting and biological pest control,” he said.
“The positive sign, however, is that people have become consciousness of the organic products and its rich nutrient value. The quality of products is much better than the chemical ones. In future, we would see a good number of farmers coming forward and opting for organic farming in Valley,” Ahmed said.
He said that several products like potato of Gurez, Basmati rice of R S Pura, red rice of Tangdar, rajmah of Bhaderwah, ginger and turmeric of Pouni were major exportable organic products that have the potential to gain more returns in the market within and outside the state.
“The organic farming which is environment friendly and maintains good soil health is not new in Valley. A good percentage of people have been yielding semi-organic products here. Switching over to organic farming won’t be difficult provided farmers are trained well with scientific techniques,” he said.

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