Multiple and Evolving Challenges must Alert us to Invest in Agriculture

Multiple and Evolving Challenges must Alert us to Invest in Agriculture
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Javid Ahmad Wani

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is endowed with plenty of resources. Fresh water, fertile soil and the varied agro climatic zones ranging from the subtropical in Jammu, somewhat temperate in Kashmir, and cold arid in Ladakh, make it ideal to grow diverse crops across the region. Jammu and Kashmir has a monopoly in growing some crops like saffron and near monopoly in Apple production. Saffron and apple are cash crops and the most important foreign exchange earners for the state. The other important crops grown in J & K are wheat, maize and rice. The combined share of agriculture and its allied sectors to State’s Gross Domestic product is 22%. Nearly 64% of the labour force is employed by this sector alone. Thus, the agriculture sector is the largest employment provider in state. But, in last few decades agricultural sector has shown a lower performance due to varied reasons, such as insufficient finance and irrigation, lack of awareness among farmers and the under pricing of agricultural products. The sector is currently under great stress due to many challenges- both conventional and nonconventional.
Among the nonconventional challenges, land conversion and climate change are posing new threats to the overall health of this already weak sector. Soil extraction from karewas has badly affected the topography of these regions, which support different crops like saffron, walnuts, almonds, and apple. Elimination of karewas from our landscape will have a very negative effect on these crops.
Climate change is already showing negative impacts to our agriculture at multiple fronts and levels. Saffron is the most poignant victim of this; the continuous decline of saffron crop yield over the past years is directly linked to climate change. The normal temperature required for flowering in the month of October is 17 degree Celsius, but during the past many years, we have witnessed above normal temperature. Besides the uneven raining in the month of May and June has given rise to many fungal diseases which has affected crop production.
Saffron is just an example that illustrates the larger malaise(s). Other crops may too get affected in the near future, due to seasonal variation in temperature, with warming in winters. Apple, as things stand, then would be the next victim as it requires, at least, a 1000-1600 hour winter chill. Moreover, all climatic models predict a gradual rise in carbon dioxide concentration and temperature across the globe which may give rise to new phenomena, with more droughts, heavy rainfall and storms in agricultural production regions. Such extreme weather events will influence where and when diseases will occur, thereby imposing severe risks and potential crop failure.
To mitigate all these challenges, we need to invest incrementally but inexorably in our agricultural sector. The beginning should from this year’s budget to give agriculture a sufficient allocation, to develop infrastructure like irrigation to agricultural fields, drought resistant crops, adequate disease controls, and research in the field.

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