Agriculture has been the backbone of our economy throughout our history and still is. A cursory look at the data will reveal its importance. Although the sector contributes less than 18 percent of Gross State Domestic Product, it employs more than 70 percent of the population directly and indirectly. Moreover, more than 72 percent of our population lives in rural areas and this speaks itself of their association with agriculture. No doubt that the services sector contributes more than 60 percent of Gross State Domestic Product, but its reliability and sustainability has come under suspicion given the political situation in the valley. For instance during the 2008 and 2010 unrest, the 2014 floods, the 2016 Burhan crisis, the 2019 lockdown and now the 2020 Covid crisis, it has been only the agriculture sector that sustained our economy. Also, the industrial sector has failed to reach its potential given the political crisis in the state. It is obvious that given the lockdowns, curfews, hartals, the industrial sector cannot operate efficiently. Although the agriculture sector has sustained our economy it has come under severe strain owing to a number of factors.
The first risk to agriculture sector comes from degradation in environment. For a few years now there has been higher incidence of flooding, hailstorms, droughts, receding glaciers and depleting water tables. According to the data available, there has been an increase in average temperature in the state. Jammu and Kashmir has surpassed the world in average temperature rise recorded in the last 100 years. As against the global increase of 0.8 to 0.9 degree Celsius, J&K has recorded 1.2 degree Celsius rise in temperature. This will have serious consequences on agriculture. It is estimated that rice, wheat, and mustard production in the state will be reduced by 6%, 4% and 4%, respectively, due to this rise in temperature. The deficit in food production in Kashmir region has reached 40%, while the deficit is 30% in vegetable production and 69% in oilseed production, putting food security at greater risk. According to the J&K Directorate of Economics and Statistics, there has also been a dip in production of rice, maize, wheat, barley, and pulses seeds due to degradation in climate. Further, untimely snow and rains have caused havoc increasingly. In 2019, untimely snow caused huge damage to apple orchards in Kashmir valley. The snowfall didn’t only damage the fruit but also the trees, making them crumble under the weight of snow. The sudden snowfall also disrupted transportation of apple to outside the region as the national highway remained blocked for several days. The government unfortunately provided meagre compensation to farmers. Moreover, there was inordinate delay in the implementation of Crop Insurance Scheme which could have proved critical at that juncture. The government must implement the scheme urgently as research has suggested that average temperature will further increase over time. The Jammu and Kashmir State Action Plan on Climate Change, a report prepared by the Climate Change Cell of the J&K government, has warned that Kashmir is heading for a dangerous climatic scenario with net temperature steadily going up.
Declining Agricultural Land
In addition to climate change, the agriculture sector is looming under another crisis which will surely impact our food security, income, and employment. According to the latest data available with the government, there has been a consistent decline in average land holdings in the state. Simple economics suggests that lower average land holdings are neither profitable nor provide stability in incomes. A report by Union Agriculture Ministry brought out glaring shrinkage of agricultural land per person in J&K. The size of land holding has shrunk from 0.62 hectares per person to 0.59 hectares from 2011 to 2016. According to the same report, arable land in the state has shrunk from 0.14 hectare per-person in 1981 to 0.08 hectare per-person in 2001 and further to 0.06 hectare per-person in 2012. The data provided by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics (J&K) reveals that more than 90 percent of land holdings fall under marginal category, which means that income from land is not profitable. This results in less farm mechanisation and the speeding up of conversion of agriculture land to non-agricultural purposes. The Kashmir valley had 4,67,700 hectares of agricultural land in 2015 which has shrunk to 3, 89,000 hectares in 2019. Kashmir has lost 78,700 hectares of agricultural land to non-agricultural purposes since 2015. The major conversion of land was in case of paddy and wheat, crops essential for our food safety. Data shows that land under paddy cultivation in Kashmir region shrank from 1,48,000 hectares in 2015 to 1,40,000 in 2018. Similarly, maize cultivation shrank from 100,000 hectares to 76,000 hectares over these years. The cultivation of pulses has declined from 14,600 hectares to 12,767 hectares. Oilseed cultivation also plummeted from 86,000 hectares to 81,000. Unfortunately the government is yet to wake up. Although laws have been passed which almost criminalise the conversion of agriculture land to non-agriculture purposes, the process continues abated.
Feminisation of Agriculture
The feminisation of agriculture in our region is not a new phenomenon but it is still invisible to most policy makers. Almost every country including India is passing through this phase where women’s participation in agriculture is rising. Comparison between the Census 2001 and 2011 reveals that women labour force participation has increased from 22 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2011 in J&K. Moreover, the percentage of women cultivators has increased from 36 percent to 38 percent during the same years. Furthermore there has been an increase of women-headed households in the valley which increases feminisation of agriculture. In the valley, women-headed households have increased from 6 percent in 2001 to 10 percent in 2011. During these years male participation as cultivators as well as labourers has declined. Although women participation has increased over the years, women still lack ownership of land titles, credit, and decision making in agriculture.
Although the government has come up with many programmes for women, women in agriculture have been completely neglected. The government still considers agriculture as a male domain which is clearly not the case. Policies are still male-biased. However, there have been some progressive decisions which may improve the conditions of women working in agriculture. The Supreme Court of India recently gave a progressive decision to make daughters equal shareholders in parental property. The implementation of this order has to be effective to improve the status of women in agriculture. Many a time laws are bypassed and customs are followed. Although the valley has a Muslim majority, yet few women have land ownership. Muslim personal laws clearly give women a share in all types of property. It has become imperative to increase share of land ownership among women, provide them credit and incentives. It is important to create Self Help Groups which will boost cultivation of vegetables and other essentials. As of today the growth of agriculture is crucially dependent on women.
Communalisation of Politics
This aspect has been curiously overlooked. As of today Kashmir is depicted as an ‘enemy’ region in the majoritarian-nationalism that prevails in India. Over the years, agriculturalists in the valley have seen a significant decline in incomes from transactions with outsiders. The major issue is the stranglehold that a few states hold over our produce. Agricultural produce is mainly imported into Kashmir from these states. The lack of farmers’ unions allows sellers to dictate terms. It is imperative that the government comes up with a plan to create influential unions which will protect interests of small and marginal land holders in Kashmir. Moreover, the state government has to create a process by which agriculturalists in the valley connect directly with international buyers so that the intermediaries do not take advantage of our political situation. Unfortunately, the state is yet to create certain process which will destroy the shackles of intermediaries on our agriculture sector.
Post-Script: Although agriculture is in a crisis, there are yet opportunities for it to grow. The government must create unions in apple industry to protect income of farmers, implement strict laws to prevent conversion of agriculture land to non-agricultural purposes, and provide incentives and protections to women in agriculture. It is important to provide women land ownership and credit facilities.
—The writer is a research scholar at the Dept of Economics, Aligarh Muslim University. [email protected]