Urbanisation impacts J&K agricultural production

Urbanisation impacts J&K agricultural production

The Jammu and Kashmir Government will have a major problem on hand in the coming years. Already, facing shortage in food grains and vegetables, the problem is likely to aggravate with fast-changing agricultural practices and growing urbanisation, eating into cultivable land mass, which is already under stress. 

The government claims that it accords top priority to agriculture sector. But it is just a claim as is evidenced from shortfall in the produce and J and K has to mostly rely on other states to meet its food requirements. Assuming no significant change in food consumption pattern in the state, experts say, 1.82 million tonnes of food grains will be required for a projected population of 10.5 million in 2030.

The Economic Survey 2013-14 reveals that all the signs of the growth in the sector have been discouraging as the government continues to ignore exploiting the available potential fully. While the state’s annual food grains production has rema­ined around 19 lakh metric tonne, the demand has crossed 26 lakh metric tonne with state’s population crossing 10.25 million mark. The gap in the production was just two lakh metric tonne in 1980 when J&K’s population was 59.87 lakh.

“The problem is that agriculture is already overburdened and the gap between the demand and production of food grains is increasing,” the survey says.

The survey has found that the state’s crop yield has not grown significantly for the past 50 years and per hectare yield continues to be low compared with the all India level.

The per hectare crop yield for 2010 regarding principal agriculture crops was around 19.42 quintals for rice, 17.12 quintals for maize, and 15.35 quintals for wheat against the corresponding figures of 18.97 quintals, 15.11 quintals and 6.45 quintals in 1964-65. The last three years average yield rate of food grains in J&K has remained around 15.5 quintals per hectare as compared with more than 19 quintals at the all India
level, it reveals.

Subsequently, the quantity has grown from 5.03 lakh metric tonne in 2002 over 10 lakh metric tonne in 2012. According to official figures, Kashmir region is going to be 50 per cent food grains deficit by 2030 if corrective measures are not taken by the government. “One of the major weaknesses of the J&K agriculture lies in having more or less stagnant yields that are lower than most of the states,” the survey points out.

Another reason for declining food production has been the government’s failure to maximise the irrigation facility in the sector as crops on more than 57 per cent of the agriculture land depends on rain.

This has resulted in minimal increase in the net area irrigated over the past four decades which has grown from 2, 97,000 hectares in 1974 to 31, 34, 000 hectares in 2010.

The survey reveals that declining interest in the agriculture has  seen another threat to the longevity of production.

“The youth are not interested in agriculture as it is not economically rewarding and intellectually stimulating,” it said and added the number of cultivators has come down from 9.49 lakh in 2001 to 5.66 lakh in 2012. An expert at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture  Sciences told Deccan Herald the agriculture sector in the state faces challenges on many fronts. “On the supply side, the yield of most crops is not improving.

Production of food grains is stagnant at around 16 quintals per hectare based on the last four years average figure,” he said.

“In some cases, it is moving downwards. The cultivable area is about eight per cent of geographical area and 34 per cent of the reporting area, net area sown constitutes only 30 per cent of the reporting area. The scope for increase in the net area sown is rather limited. Farm size is continuously shrinking,” he added.

Other reasons for dwindling produce, the expert said, are coming up of large colonies at the cost of agricultural land. “Shrinking of agricultural land and fast conversion of this land into commercial activities, shifting of farmers from agriculture to horticulture, production of
vegetables and other sectors have caused much impact on it,” he said.

As rice continues to be the preferred food in Kashmir Valley, the continued increase in population eventually will have a major implication for food demand and food security.
Assuming no significant change in area and consumption pattern, the expert said: “If the productivity levels of rice are increased to six tonne per hectare and yield gap in maize is fully exploited to feed the projected population of 10.5 million, in 2030 there will still be production shortfall of more than one million tonne which will have to be bought from outside.”

He said the target of six tonne per hectare in rice is quite achievable, particularly in lower belts. This can be attained in a sustainable way that preserves or restores the natural resource base and increases the resilience of farming system to climatic variation and change.

With nearly 70 per cent of the state population directly or indirectly depending on agriculture for livelihood, agriculturists believe that the government was sitting over the serious issue.

“Dozens of colonies are coming up on agricultural land in different parts of the state. The law enforcement agencies need to curb the menace before the problem assumes horrendous proportions,” said Farooq Ahmad, an agriculturist.

The low production has also cast its effect on the J&K economy. The share of agriculture to the state gross domestic product has witnessed a steep fall from 56 per cent in 1970 to 19 per cent last year. “Growth in agriculture still remains less than two per cent and the average growth rate of last seven years has been only 2.28 per cent,” the survey report reveals.

“The growth rate in the sector is likely to come down to 1.44 per cent. All this is not an encouraging,” it observes. The survey has attributed underdeveloped infrastructure, including roads, inadequate marketing facilities, poor harvest resulting in wastage and crop loss to weeds, insects and diseases, as cause for low production.

Zulfikar Majid in Srinagar  

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