May 2016 News

Sowing Seeds Of Change, Valley Youth Takes To Farming

5 May 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Rifat Mohidin

Srinagar: At a time when people are switching to other livelihoods from agriculture, three young Kashmiris - Nasir Rather, Sehar Bhat and Amreen Rafiq - have broken the myth and chosen horticulture as their career, aiming to double apple production. Rather, leader of 'Meva' (business name) team, who hails from south Kashmir's Kokernag and lives in Srinagar, pursued his education from Canada and returned to Kashmir two years ago to use his skills in his homeland which has suffered economically due to political unrest. After two years of research in the job-starved state, he chose horticulture as his field and decided to start high-density apple orchards, a concept which is totally new in Kashmir. 'There is a lot of potential, but apple production is reducing in Kashmir. So I wanted to increase it using new organic techniques to change the methods of plantation,' says Nasir who engages more than 1,000 people throughout the year. Nasir's other two partners, Sehar and Ambreen, are in their mid-20s. When they go to agricultural offices to get tools such as agricultural machinery for their nurseries and orchard, people get surprised seeing two young girls doing what mostly old farmers are expected to do. 'We don't believe in only employing other people but engaging ourselves in the work and learn everything associated with it. People get surprised while they see us buying the stuff for our orchards but we take pride in it. There is a huge scope in agriculture,' says Amreen who is a management passout. Introducing high-density apple nurseries in the Valley was not easy. The first hindrance was importing of expensive plants. Therefore, the team's first focus was to cultivate plants in Kashmir. After a year of hard work and engagement of experts, they were successful in producing high-density plants in the Valley. 'We want Kashmir to become number one in the world in apple production. This is a long process; we are creating awareness among masses as well,' says Nasir who has created the Valley's first high-density nurseries and orchards in south Kashmir's Awantipora. The Meva team is focusing on producing 1 lakh high-density apple plants every year which will increase the overall production. 'We have to think of apple production in a commercial way. In Kashmir people who are engaged in the horticulture sector are not highly skilled and educated. They work in a traditional way that does not bring in much benefit,' says Nasir, who is motivating the farmers to adopt new practices and has received a positive response so far. The team has its first nursery spread on 25 kanals and it is planning to expand. 'Apart from nursery we have three orchards where we have planted trees in three model ways,' he added. 'This orchard system increases production and quality of apples. I feel this is a potentially good industry but we have to adopt new methods,' says Nasir. The methods of picking the fruit in the orchard system has also been simplified as the plants are mostly 5 feet, where no ladder or extra labour is used. The team is trying to focus on sustainability to implement its work organically like the use the solar power for irrigation and raise chickens to treat diseases in plants. 'We don't believe that there is anything that we can't do anything organically to meet the needs of our orchards. We have also created wooden sheds in the orchards to use the local raw material instead of using permanent construction material. We take care of environment as well. We don't follow traditional practices blindly,' says Nasir. With not much expert help available in the Valley, the three entrepreneurs are planning to start agriculture labs in different districts of Kashmir to meet the needs of farmers and guide them towards innovative agricultural practices. Each plant in high-density apple orchards usually yields 18-19 kg high-quality apples. One kanal produces 4-5 MT of fruit, which is a quantum jump over propagation of apples through traditional farming. Box: What experts say: Experts believe that if only 20 per cent of our orchards take up high-density farming over the next five years, the Rs 3,000-crore industry will expand five times to a staggering figure of Rs 15,000 crore.