The Jammu and Kashmir economy is primarily agrarian. Nature has gifted to Jammu and Kashmir suitable agroclimatic conditions for the cultivation of apples, walnuts, almonds, and saffron. Horticulture sector is an important and dynamic part of the economy covering diverse areas and people such as growers, traders, transporters, processors, retailers, wholesalers, exporters, etc. It is the main economic sector for income and employment generation. Apple is the main crop in the horticulture industry and contributes significantly to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). The horticulture business in general and apple business, in particular, is beset with problems such as low-density plantation, mono-assortment culture, contamination, poor skills and low education level, the occurrence of unnecessary long marketing channels, and weak irrigation facilities. In addition, there are few grower associations and inefficient trade unions. There is lack of market research and inadequate modern marketing tools. Whether it is the government’s Horticulture Mission or any other scheme pertaining to agricultural efficiency and development, there has been high inefficiency and poor implementation. Furthermore, there is lack of systematic farming systems, high seed costs, and high labour costs. Also, we find communication gaps between growers and agro-scientists, poor or no knowledge about plant safety measures, and very little awareness about ways of increasing farm production.
At the same time, horticulture has very high prospects of growth and, for that reason, there is great scope for High-Density Plantation (HDP) which refers to an increase in the number of plants per unit area to boost levels of production and quality of fruits. Under the HDP system, the number of plants per square km of the same or different species is increased to yield best returns by utilising both natural and man-made factors of production, as compared to traditional planting methods where limited plants are raised per square km. The scope of highdensity plantation is different for different regions and climatic conditions. The government should provide training, material, and financial backing to all those who are associated with the horticulture sector directly or indirectly. This is a very labor-intensive sector where most of the work (pre-harvest and post-harvest) is performed by hand. It is, therefore, important for the government and agricultural scientists to provide quality practical training on agricultural processes. This will improve area utlisation, crop production, and income levels which currently are very poor in the sector. As there are good prospects for High Density Plantation in Kashmir valley, making people aware of it will help in encouraging the fruit industry, especially of apple. Further, more awareness about HDP will definitely help in reducing the problems that plague horticulture and reduce pressure on land, which at present is very high. HDP demands good infrastructure in terms of appropriate rootstocks and consistent branch types, or cultivars, in order to lessen the fruit bearing period and increase the production per unit of area.
There is no denying the fact that good infrastructure promotes economic development and the linkage between the two is very important not only for development but also for use of technological innovations in vital areas of the economy. Public infrastructure in HDP is necessary for increasing the productive capacity of agriculture and horticulture in the valley. Our economy is very underdeveloped due to poor infrastructure that fails to attract industries, large ones in particular. Private companies, the government, and individual farmers must invest wisely in the horticulture sector and its allied areas to benefit growers in terms of standard of living and quality of life (mainly nutritional security). With serious limits on agricultural or horticultural area extension and falling yields of traditional planting methods, the growth of agriculture production is hampered. A shift towards non-food crops (principally cash crops) and high-density plantations will better take advantage of the geography and climate of the valley. HDP is a viable option and should be encouraged. We must not ignore the fact that in Jammu and Kashmir, the prospects to increase the levels of production in agriculture through such diversification are highest in the country (Chand, 1996).
—The writer is ICSSR Doctoral Fellow pursuing Ph.D. in Economics on the research topic, ‘An Economic Analysis of Saffron in Jammu and Kashmir’, at Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir. Email: [email protected]