Near-extinct is another Kashmiri specialty: the red potato

Near-extinct is another Kashmiri specialty: the red potato
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The famous taste that once the whole valley savoured, is now of nostalgia in Hirpora

SHOPIAN: The famous red (khera) potato in Shopian’s Hirpora has declined by 98 percent in the village, the production wiped out by low massive use of fertilisers, breakout of diseases, and the consequent low yield.
The red potato was famous because of its taste. Locals compared the potato with that of mutton. Suhail Ahmad, a resident of Hirpora, told Kashmir Reader that only 15 persons among 700 households grow the traditional red potato, on a much smaller area of land.
He calls the rampant use of fertilisers as the cause for the decline. “Years back there was no use of fertilisers. Locals were using natural manures like cow dung in potato fields, and there was normal produce of potato. But with the massive use of fertilisers, the delicate red potato breed was not able to survive,” he said.
Ghulam Mohiuddin Khan, another resident, said that after the decline of red potato, a new Himachal brand called Kufri-joti was brought to the area, but that too declined because of several reasons. “Kufri-Joti was not as good as red potato, but better than what we grow (white potato). The intensive rainfall damages its seeds and hence there is less production, as well as inferior quality of potatoes,” he said.
Muhammad Sultan Mir, another Hirpora resident, said that the present cost of red potato is Rs 7,000 per quintal. “The rate of this potato is high because it takes us lot of labour as well as natural manure. The land on which we grow this potato has no apple or any other kind of tree. Despite the hard work and more expenses, it has smaller yields,” Mir said.
Experts said that Hirpora potato’s distinct taste came from its being cultivated in mountainous region.
Some of the villagers opine that plantation of apple trees in the same potato fields greatly affected the quantity and quality of the potatoes. They said that the rate of cultivation decreased 40 percent from when it was being cultivated a decade ago.
Villagers also blamed the government, which is no surprise, of being callous about save the traditional breed. They said that the government was taking no steps to save the near-extinct red potato.
Aqib Ahmad Sheikh, one of the few cultivators of red potato, said that the cultivation of this potato was the lone source of income for many of Hirpora’s inhabitants. “The government must depute experts to look into the causes of decline, and steps should be taken to revive it,” Sheikh said, while informing that people store the potatoes in the rooms of their houses.
Growers told Kashmir Reader that last year, there occurred a huge fall in prices of potatoes. A quintal of white potato cost Rs 1,200, that of Kufri-joti cost Rs 2,500, and for the red potato the price was the same as the cost: Rs 7,000 for a quintal.
The growers said that some years ago there were traders who distributed their potatoes across the valley. “But now hardly any person comes here to buy our potatoes,” rued one cultivator.
They said that different varieties of potatoes have been tried for cultivation, but none survived the conditions except, to some extent, the Kufri-joti.
Mir added that they small-size potatoes were put aside for the seeds and the large ones were sold. He said that several people used to visit Hirpora to buy potato seeds. “Years back, trucks of potatoes were being sent to all parts of the valley from here, but now a handful of the same goes to those parts,” he said.
Hirpora village including nearby localities comprises about 900 households. They live beside the historical Mughal Road and the last inhabitation ends in followed that stretch beyond in the 341-sq km Hirpora wildlife sanctuary. The major source of income of the people here is cultivation of potatoes.
Dr Khursheed Ahmad, a junior scientist from the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), told Kashmir Reader that scientists had taken measures for the revival of red potato. “There was a solution to control the diseases, but the low yield of the red potato made growers shift to new varieties like Kufri-Joti,” he said.
Dr Ahmad said that the government should take some “compensation measure” until the traditional potato can be revived in the region. “We used to give growers free seeds as well as fertilisers,” he said of the university’s efforts.
To develop a cross-breed of the rd potato, Dr Ahmad said, will take a lot of time.