JAMMU: Describing agriculture as the bright spot in state’s economy, Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, on Friday fixed achievable targets for a quick turnaround, aimed at making J&K self-sufficient in agriculture production.
As a testament to the fertility of the land for certain kind of crops, she suggested popularising the concept of model villages for basmati, mushkbudgi, apple, saffron and walnut to set the agriculture sector rolling on the path of recovery. “Our land is fertile and we have enough water resources. I wonder why our production is not picking up,” she questioned, while expressing concern over using only the third of the state’s potential in agriculture sector.
The Chief Minister made these remarks while reviewing the functioning of the Agriculture Production Department (APD), at the Civil Secretariat, here on Friday.
Minister for Agriculture Production, Ghulam Nabi Lone, Chief Secretary, BR Sharma, Financial Commissioner, Planning & Development, BB Vyas, Principal Secretary, APD, Sandeep Nayak, Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, Naveen Chaudhary and Secretary, Horticulture Department, MH Malik, besides Directors of Agriculture and Sericulture departments attended the meeting.
The Chief Minister called for fundamental change in the working of the department so that shortage of food-grains is met by becoming self-sufficient in agriculture production. She asked the officers in the department not to confine themselves to routine administrative work, mostly restricting themselves to distribution of seeds and fertilizers only and not ignore the more important component of extension work and demonstration of technology to the farmers. “Unless the technology travels from laboratory to farms, there is very little we can do to enhance crop output,” she stated.
As farming is a low-margin, labour-intensive activity, the Chief Minister reminded the officers of their responsibility to produce results so that the tag of having ‘untapped agriculture potential’ is shrugged off. “We need to show visibility of schemes by ensuring access of quality seeds, irrigation and power to the farming community in an absolutely hassle-free manner,” she insisted, adding otherwise the government will be constrained to explore the option of involving experts from outside the state to obtain desirable results.
Indicating a tie-up between the farmers and the agriculture entrepreneurs, Mehbooba said the job of the department is to increase productivity so that there is corresponding rise in the farmers’ income. Citing an example, she correlated the surge in the prices of pulses with inability of the department to promote its cultivation, despite having the right climatic conditions in the state. “There is a need for shift in strategy and approach and the change should be visible from this sowing season,” she stated.
The Chief Minister said despite huge export potential in saffron, basmati and apple cultivation, we have been unable to penetrate international markets on a much bigger scale. “We lack quality control, which is why the genuineness of our products is questioned from time-to-time,” she observed.
Mehbooba also highlighted the huge export potential of cut flower business, for which she asked the Floriculture Department to prepare a comprehensive proposal.
Mehbooba Mufti noted with concern though the inability to extract tangible benefits out of several government schemes like the National Saffron Mission, National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, setting up of Farm Information Advisory Centre and Online National Agricultural Marketing Portal.
To aggressively market J&K’s potential in high-quality crops, the Chief Minister tasked the Agriculture Department to set up model villages for Basmati at R. S. Pura and Mushkbudgi at Sagam, near Kokernag. She said she will personally monitor the progress of the model villages so that it has a cascading effect on other high-yielding crops and fruits in the state.
Similarly, she passed directions to set up two model villages for saffron at Samboora, in Pulwama and Kishtwar, in Jammu division, respectively.
In order to rejuvenate the saffron cultivation, the Chief Minister set a deadline of six weeks for the Agriculture Department to install sprinkler irrigation system in the saffron fields to boost production.
Under the National Saffron Mission, the government is spending Rs. 400.11 crore to rejuvenate the saffron production on around 3715 ha of land at Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar districts.
Mehbooba Mufti also fixed a timeline of four months to make the Spice Park at Dussoo, Pampore, functional. She was informed that a quality lab, packaging line and e-marketing facilities will be provided once the park is commissioned.
Earlier, Planning Commissioner briefed the Chief Minister about the allocation of Rs.500 crore made for the agriculture sector under the Prime Minister’s Development Package. To utilise this money, he said the department will be advised to finalise broad contours under various heads.
The Agriculture Secretary informed the Chief Minister that the devolution to agriculture sector under 14th Finance Commission Award has not been very encouraging. He highlighted the need for a ‘special project’ for funding to propel the activities of the department, which suffered damages to the tune of Rs.4400 crore in the colossal floods of 2014.