Why Kashmiri farmers switch from paddy to horticulture?

A grower grading apples as per their size in a Pulwama village
A grower grading apples as per their size in a Pulwama village | Photo: Reshi Irshad

SRINAGAR — Bashir Ahmad, a 50-year-old farmer, from central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district would grow paddy on 10 kanals of land, earning Rs 25,000 annually. However, for the last several years, they have been cultivating apples on this same land which fetch them Rs 2.5 lakh annually.

“We have a family of six people and all are dependent on it. Farmers are switching from paddy to horticulture as it gives good returns,” he told the news agency KINS.

Similarly, Mohammad Shafi, 55, and his family have been associated with fruit production for 30 years. “We grow fruits on 30 kanals of land. We have a family of 20 people and all are dependent on the earnings of apple produce. Besides, 20 people are also working with us during the cultivation season. We make a good earning out of it and fetch us Rs 4 lakh profit annually,” he said, who hails from Anantnag district.

The conversion from agriculture to horticulture has one simple reason as fruits bring more money to farmers than rice.

According to figures from the Department of Horticulture Jammu and Kashmir, the area under horticulture cultivation was 82,486 hectares in 1975 which went up to 3,30,956 hectares in 2021, indicating around 400 percent increase in the area under horticulture for the last 47 years.

The largest horticulture crop grown in J&K is the apple. In 1975, the area under apple production was 46,189 hectares which increased to 1,64,854 hectares in 2021 including 1,47,130 hectares in Kashmir and 17,724 hectares in Jammu.

Horticulture is the mainstay of Kashmir’s economy with seven lakh families, according to figures from Horticulture Department Kashmir is directly or indirectly associated with the sector. Horticulture contributes over eight percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Jammu and Kashmir.

While figures from Agriculture Department Kashmir say that from 1,62,309 hectares in 2012-2013, the area under paddy cultivation decreased to 1,34,067 hectares in 2021-2022.

A senior official of the Horticulture Department said horticulture gives far better returns to farmers than agriculture. “There are many government-sponsored schemes under which farmers can avail benefits to grow fruits on their land and increase the production,” he said.

He said horticulture is the backbone of Kashmir’s economy and asks farmers to cultivate fruits. “Horticulture sector is getting far better returns than paddy cultivation. So farmers should focus more on the horticulture sector as fruits like apples are largely grown in the valley unlike rice which is cultivated in many parts of the country,” he added.

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