Mukhtar Dar

Horticulture Sector, Prospects and Policy Imperatives to Support Farmers

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The horticulture sector is poised to grow more rapidly in the upcoming years in J&K, despite disruptions it faced due to subsequent lockdowns. At a time when all the sectors are in shambles, the fruit industry remains a beacon of hope for many unemployed youths and local families in Jammu and Kashmir, Mukhtar Dar writes.

Throughout history, farmers in Kashmir have been known to suffer immensely. Their economy was badly shaped by ill-conceived laws that did nothing to serve the interests of the cultivators. They had to go through periods of stagnation, characterized not only by poverty but also by the lowest level of income imaginable, due to harsh taxation policies of rulers and the Jagardari system before independence. Keeping in mind the struggles of the farmers, there were few revolutionary land reforms introduced in the recent past (post-independence) that sought to provide some relief to the cultivators.

These reforms allowed for more ownership of land amongst the farmers, thus giving them an active choice in determining the kind of cultivation that they would want to be involved in. Over the past few decades thus, farmers have opted for the horticulture sector to gain better profits. This sector became a viable option because the demand for Kashmiri horticulture products increased immensely in the country and also globally during this time. On the other hand, infrastructure facilities in traditional agriculture crops were not feasible, resulting in stagnant agriculture development. The input cost increased in old farming but the output remained the same. So adopting the horticulture sector to earn a livelihood was a reasonable option. With its sound income, farmers were able to improve their livelihood significantly.

Despite the overall improved condition of the farmers as they adapted to the new sector, the past two decades with the subsequent lockdowns in the erstwhile state have increased challenges for the people associated with this vital sector. It is important to note that the lockdowns have hit the horticulture sector quite hard and it has suffered disproportionate losses over this extended period of time.

The latest challenges were imposed by COVID-19 lockdown. The administration attended many meetings related to these challenges but failed to address the grievances of the farmers adequately. This showcases the need for more consistent engagement and supervised the implementation of policy to support new choices made by farmers. There should be more ways of bringing in agricultural research and establishing linkages such that in times of crisis, farmers can find ways to tide through the difficult phase without incurring irreparable losses.

Mapping through history the setting of current Agriculture Policy in Jammu and Kashmir

As is customary in other parts of the world,  the agriculture sector of Jammu and Kashmir also witnessed a change in patterns of crop cultivation over the centuries. History testifies that the  J&K cultivators suffered immensely due to heavy taxation and levy on the cultivated produce during the Lohara dynasty and the Sikh rule. The system of “begar”  (Bonded labour) was extensively in practice during Dogra rule in which farmers were forced to work under extreme conditions without pay and basic facilities. It added to the hardship of peasants and halted their progress.

The economy during the period of Dogra rule was dominated by agriculture. Around 75% of the population was engaged with this sector and it was the main source of income for the state. So to fill the state treasury, Dogra rulers imposed taxes on every crop from paddy to cash crop Tobacco. These taxes were collected through intermediaries. The stories of oppressed collection of taxes still resonate within the collective memories of the people of J&K. Post-independence of India, the National Conference created a niche in J&K, initiating transfer of ownership rights of land to the cultivators. Consequently, the agriculture sector went through rapid changes under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah.

In India, J&K created a unique place and reputation in implementing the revolutionary land reforms that changed the fate of Kashmiri peasants. These land reforms facilitated transformation in the economy of J&K and uplifted the cultivators. Soon after the introduction of reforms in the erstwhile state, peasants shifted the old age cropping patterns to adopt cash crops and the horticulture sector. During the last five decades, land has rapidly come under orchards. Farmers transplanted apple trees in paddy fields, keeping view of its demand and profits. From 1990 to 2000 almost half of cultivation land in the valley came under fruit cultivation.

This rapid transformation came into existence with the efforts of the government. Keeping in view the  fame of Kashmiri fruits and its demand, the government made a separate  department for horticulture in 1962. In 1978,  the establishment of the department integrated horticulture project was launched in collaboration with the World Bank to boost the fruit industry in Kashmir. The total cost of the project was 24.22 crores. Apart from that, the government had taken certain initiatives and launched several schemes since the establishment of the department to bring more focus to this sector. Somehow, they were successful but there is still large scope to develop it more.

Presently in Jammu and Kashmir, the horticultural sector contributes largely to sustain the economy and it has a distinct place in the fruit market of India. Total 77 percent of apples and 90 percent of walnut fruits in India are produced in Jammu and Kashmir. The Union Territory has been declared as the “Agri Export zone for Apples and Walnuts”. The other fruit crops grown in the union territory are almonds, pears, cherries and apricots in temperate areas and mango, citrus, litchi, papaya, guava etc. in subtropical areas. Saffron cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir is renowned in the world. Globally, Iran ranks first in the production of saffron with 70% of total production. India stands in 3rd position, where J&K has a monopoly on the production.

Area under fruit cultivation in J&K State has increased from 2.95 lakh hectares in 2007-08 to 3.57 lakh hectares in 2015-16 . The production increased from 16.36 lac MTs in 2007-08 to 24.94 lakh MTs in 2015-16. Over the last few decades when development had taken a back seat in J&K, this sector played a significant role in increasing the income of the people and it created new opportunities for the unemployed youth of Jammu and Kashmir. According to the Agriculture department, J&K horticulture contributes around 8% GDP to the erstwhile state. There are around 6 lakh families who are directly or indirectly associated with this sector and it is gaining popularity more rapidly.

Challenges and Solutions for Better Support to the Sector

Despite the obvious popularity and scope of success of the horticulture sector, the lack of foresightedness in policy slowed the sector’s progress and subsequent lockdowns have dented it even further. Official figures revealed that 2014 floods cost growers financial losses worth Rs 1425 crores. This setback was followed by the unrest of 2016. According to reports, fruit growers have suffered a whopping loss of around 1000 crores as they were unable to export the fruits to outside mandies till August end since the unrest.

After abrogation of Article 370 of Indian constitution and bifurcating J&K into two Union territories followed by communication blockade, transport restrictions were imposed by the center which further aggravated the problem. Growers faced difficulties to transport their produce. According to the delegation sent by the central government, the total loss in the valley due to lockdown followed by constitutional amendment was estimated to be more than 7000 crore. Amid the ongoing crises the apples that were stored in cold storages could not be transported. The lack in coordination between the government and other stakeholders left these apple growers helpless. Same thing happened with the season’s first fruits like cherry and strawberry as they have found no buyers.

The farmers are moving from pillar to post but nobody is giving them heed. As per reports, around 14000 metric ton cherry crop worth above Rs 150 crores was lost due to the ongoing pandemic. Recently, the  administration facilitated flights to transport cherry to Mumbai and Bangalore markets, but the charges were very high and couldn’t be availed of by a large section of the farming population. Besides these unprecedented challenges, the use of substandard pesticides and fertilizers in the Union territory are rampant. Farmers are not losing money only but it is also affecting their fruits in terms of farming methodology which is not as per latest agricultural research for sustainable cultivation.

No quality checking is carried out to ensure best quality produce reaching the markets. The administration seems to be acting as a mute spectator while the farmers are facing the unending blows as a result of ill managed and poorly implemented horticulture management policy. The need to integrate latest research into agricultural practices, enhance linkages within the supply chain from the farms to the markets while also ensuring quality control demands more investment on the part of the government and local administration in reassessment and reevaluation of the situation on the ground. Unfortunately not much is being done on this account.

The horticulture sector is a highly lucrative industry in Jammu and Kashmir. It is a fundamental instrument in J&K to reduce poverty and enhance employment opportunities, as has been demonstrated with respect to a careful study of the data on the matter. The LG administration should take it seriously and work to support the industry with an eye on crisis management to begin with. Fresh horticulture policy should be initiated where focus should be on the following aspects:

Tackling climate change.

Upgrading horticulture infrastructure and handling post harvesting activities in order to facilitate linkages from the farm to the markets.

More horticulture institutions should be established at every block of the  UT keeping in mind their importance in supporting the farmers with best practices and resources in a timely manner.

These institutions should be made more accountable and active to encourage cultivators to establish nurseries and plant the latest high quality yield fruits. It will make coordination of the department with the producers stronger and they can assist them in time.

New Mandies should be established in every district and Sub districts of the UT.

The Paucity of cold storages came into the limelight during the ongoing pandemic. More cold storage facilities must be installed with feasibility plans.

To curb the menace of marketing substandard material, strong laws for quality control should be enacted.

There should be more investment in connecting agricultural research institutions with farmers to enable farmers to learn how to implement the best practices for sustainable cultivation. This would enhance quality of fruits and also take into account factors like soil health, use of organic fertilizers and less use of harmful chemicals in the farming process.


The horticulture sector is poised to grow more rapidly in the upcoming years in J&K, despite disruptions it faced due to subsequent lockdowns.  This fact showcases the important fact of the need for timely investment in a sector that is most suited to support the population in a more effective way. At a time when all the sectors are in shambles, the fruit industry remains a beacon of hope for many unemployed youth and local families in Jammu and Kashmir.

As a mark of the promise of development and new hope for the UT, the government should take this sector seriously as a priority and look into providing the required policy support to boost the economy and human resource potential in the sector during these trying times. This would be an important gesture of goodwill in terms of providing relief to the distressed farmers and the larger community.


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