The Agrarian Crisis in Kashmir

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By: Syed Suhail Yaqoob

Agriculture sector has been the backbone of economy throughout our history and it 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 however employs more than 70 percent of our population both directly and indirectly. Moreover, more than 72 percent of our population lives in rural areas and this speaks itself of their interaction with agriculture sector. No doubt that Service sector contributes more than 60 percent of Gross State Domestic Product, however its reliability and sustainability has come under suspicion given the political situation in the valley. For instance during 2008, 2010, 2014 floods, 2016 Burhan crisis, 2019 and 2020 Covid crisis it was only agricultural sector that sustained our economy. Also, the Industrial sector has failed to reach its potential given the political crisis in the state. It is a common man’s guess that given the lockdowns, curfews, hartals an industrial sector cannot operate efficiently. Although the agriculture sector has sustained our economy it has however come under severe strains owing to a number of the factors.

Climatic Changes

The first risk to agriculture sector comes from degradation in environment. From few years there have been higher risks of flooding, hailstorms, droughts, receding glaciers and 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, J&K has recorded 1.2-degree Celsius rise in temperature. This will have serious consequences on agriculture. It is estimated that the rice, wheat, mustard production in the state will be reduced by 6%, 4% and 4%, respectively. 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 a greater risk. According to the J&K Directorate of Economics and Statistics there has been a dip in production of rice, maize, wheat, barley, pulses and oil seeds due to the degradation in climate. Further the untimely snow and rains have caused havoc to agriculture sector. In 2019 the untimely snow caused damage of around Rs. 5 billion to Apple orchards in Kashmir valley. Apple growers were the hardest hit as the snowfall didn’t only damage the apple crop, but also the branches of apple trees laden with fruit, making them crumble under the weight of snow. The sudden snowfall also disrupted the transportation of Kashmiri apple to outside the state as the national highway remained blocked for several days due to extreme weather. The government unfortunately provided meagre amount to farmers which barely compensated for the damages. Moreover there was an avoidable 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 increase over time. This is surely a bad news for agriculture sector in the state. The Jammu and Kashmir State Action Plan on Climate Change, a report prepared by the Climate Change Cell of the State government, has warned that Kashmir is heading for peculiar climatic scenario with net temperature 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 provides stability in incomes. A report by Union Agriculture Ministry brought out glaring shrinkage of agricultural land per person in the state. 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 the 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 implies that income from land is not enough profitable. Not only it results in less farm mechanization but also speeds up the conversion of agriculture land for 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 which are essential for our food safety. Data shows that the 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. Furthermore 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 the laws have been passed which almost criminalises the conversion of agriculture land to non-agriculture purposes, the process however continues abated.

Feminisation of Agriculture

The feminisation of agriculture in our state is almost a new phenomenon however it is still invisible to most policy makers. Almost every country including India is passing through this phase where women participation in agriculture is rising. Our state is also witnessing an increase in participation of women in agriculture. The comparisons between the census 2001 and 2011 reveals that women labour force participation has increased from 22 percent in 2001 to 24 percent in 2011. 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 labours have declined. Although women participation has increased over the years, still women lack ownership of land titles, credit and decision making in agriculture sector.

Although the government has come up with many programmes for women, however, the women in agriculture has been completely neglected.  The government still considers agriculture as male domain which is clearly not the case. Unfortunately the policies are still male biased which lowers the productivity of agriculture.  There has been however many progressive decisions which might 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 has to be effective in order to improve status of women in agriculture. Many a time laws are bypassed and customs are followed. Although the valley is Muslim majority yet few women have land ownership. The Muslim personal laws clearly give women a share in all type 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 among women in agriculture which will boost vegetable cultivation and cultivation of other essentials. As of today the growth of agriculture is crucially dependant on women.

Communalisation of Politics

This aspect has been curiously overlooked. As of today the Kashmir is depicted as an ‘enemy’ region in the majoritarian-nationalism. Over the years the agriculturalists in the valley have seen a significant decline in the incomes from the transactions. The major issue is the strong-hold by few states over our produce. For instance in few states the produce of agricultural is exported which includes prominently Delhi, Gujrat and Bombay. In those states the produce is sold at whatever prices and the agriculturalists have little choice. Although the buyers have created their own unions the agriculturists still have no important and influential unions particularly in apple industry. The lack of Unions always pushes down the prices of the agriculture production. It is imperative that the government comes up with a plan to create influential unions which will protect incomes of the marginal land holders in the valley. Moreover the UT government has to create a process by which the agriculturalists in the valley connect directly with the 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 the agriculture looms under crisis, yet there are 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 to women in agriculture. The UT is heading through the ‘Feminisation of Agriculture’ phase and it is important to provide them land ownership, credit facilities so that there is growth in agriculture sector.

– The author is a research Scholar in the Dept. Of Economics at Aligarh Muslim university and can be emailed at [email protected]

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