The Horticulture sector is one of the most important, fast growing and demand driven sectors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir as it provides employment to lakhs of people directly and indirectly. About 27 percent of the population is associated with the Horticulture sector in the state. It contributes very well to the economy of the people as well as to the economy of Jammu and Kashmir (8 % state gross domestic production). Temperate and subtropical fruits are grown in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the fruit crops grown in the state are apple, almonds, walnuts, pears, cherries, plum, peach, and apricots in temperate areas especially in Kashmir valley and mango, citrus, litchi, papaya, guava etc. in subtropical areas of Jammu. For the past one decade, more agricultural land has been brought under the cultivation of fruit trees especially apple trees due to education and awareness among people about its importance that obviously increased sustainable livelihood opportunities of the common people. The sector has reduced the gap between the rich and the poor to some extent in rural areas. To make the sector more productive and competitive sector, the state government in particular and the central government in general have launched many schemes for the promotion of horticulture sector in the state like National Horticulture Mission (NHM), Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH), newly launched Modified High Density Scheme and Nursery Development Scheme etc. Skill training, necessary guidance and awareness of new technologies are being continuously provided to the growers for many years that boost the horticulture growth of the state and many entrepreneurs and enterprises emerged in this sector. Soil health card and Kisan credit card schemes have also been launched for the improvement of soil health and financial assistance to the growers respectively that showed promising results. For the past one decade, almost all sectors in the Kashmir valley have been badly hit due to unforeseen circumstances however; the horticulture sector is the only one that supported the economy of the people involved and the state like the backbone of a human body. The sector has become very popular in contemporary times as it employees lakhs of people and generates approximately 10,000 crore annually. The fruit production has been continuously increasing in the state and as per the government report, 20.35 lakh MTs of fruit production has been recorded in 2020-21 and Jammu and Kashmir is the 3rd rank holder in monthly income to agriculture households and 5th best performing UT in Agriculture and allied sector. J&K Horticulture sector despite having great potential to absorb more unemployed youth, the educated unemployed youth of the state have been waiting and relying only on government jobs for years while in the government sector, the job opportunities are very limited and it is impossible for the government to absorb all the educated unemployed youth. As per a recent report published by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIS), the unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir touched 21.6% that is the worst among states and Union Territories in India. Due to rising unemployment rate in Jammu and Kashmir, many educated youth have fallen prey to anxiety, depressions and some get addicted to drugs and alcohol or attempted to suicides. The horticulture sector in the state has more potential and opportunities for the unemployed youth. It can solve the unemployment level to more extent provided that youth will come forward and take advantage under government schemes. The horticulture sector in Jammu and Kashmir is not free from challenges. For the past many years, the Horticulture sector in the valley received some setbacks due to various reasons that dismayed all the stakeholders particularly growers involved in it. First and foremost challenge is the change in weather and climatic conditions of Jammu and Kashmir due to air pollution and global warming that causes ample damage to the fruit trees and crops every year.
The cold weather conditions associated with heavy raining and fast wind and hailstorm during peak flowering period causes pre falling of flowers and prevents pollinator insects from pollination. It also gives rise to the birth of many fungal, bacterial and viral diseases to the fruit trees and crops and latter prove very costly to the growers in all respects. The untimely snowfall also wreaks havoc to the fruit gardens of Kashmir valley in the form of uprooting of trees and shedding of fruits. High cost and substandard availability of fertilizers and pesticides, high cost of packaging materials and transport charges, competition from the fruits of Himachal Pradesh and foreign countries like Iran, Labeling and marking other states fruits with Kashmiri Tags, labels and markings, shortage of high density fruit trees to meet the growing demand of growers, Inadequate irrigation facilities and cold storage facilities, lack of crop insurance schemes, lack of Kisan Call Centers and Krishi Vigyan Centers for the information and timely guidance to growers, Lack of awareness among people about new schemes, programmes and management practices like pruning, grafting, spraying, fertilization, irrigation of gardens by Horticulture Development Scientists, officers, Technicians and Gardeners at village level besides, adoption of traditional plantation and methodologies of gardening by growers are major impediments to the horticulture sector. It is pertinent to mention here that a few days ago, the chairman of Jammu and Kashmir RTI movement Dr. Raja Muzaffar Bhat sahab highlighted a video in which an award winner apple grower from chararsharief namely Ali Mohammad was making serious allegations against horticulture department Budgam by providing substandard varieties of apple trees instead of high density apple trees and the same grower was very dismayed and disgruntled and repenting for cutting his thirty year old traditional productive apple garden. I think this is now a serious challenge to the growers and it will take years for the horticulture department to build a trust among the growers if the same grower will not get the genuine justice and erring officials will not be punished by the department. There are several remedial measures to the challenges of the horticulture sector: Education and awareness among common people at gross root level by Horticulture Development Scientists, officers, Technicians and Gardeners through seminars, workshops, trainings, refresher modules etc. regarding all round development of ultra-high density fruit trees like technical knowhow and proper guidance, management of orchards, its establishment and tree and fruit protection measures, development of high tech nurseries of new varieties by the concerned department with more subsidies, availability of fertilizers, pesticides at reasonable prices, low cost of packaging material and transport charges, establishment of high tech fruit Mandies and cold storage facilities so that wastage and spoilage of fruits can be minimized. Besides, Irrigation facilities must be provided wherever required. There is immediate need of introduction of High-density fruit trees especially apple tree of all varieties on war footing basis in every part of the valley otherwise, traditional apple production of the valley will suffer much loss due to great competition and challenges ahead from the high-density apple varieties of other states like Himachal Pradesh and other foreign countries like Iran. The government should carry out proper assessment for the losses caused to the growers in case of natural calamities. The horticulture department should not cheat growers by providing substandard varieties of fruit trees and officials involved in such cheating should be heavily fined and even terminated so that growers will get justice and transparency and accountability in the concerned department be ensured. The above measures will definitely boost the horticulture sector, double the farmers’ income, create more job opportunities for unemployed youth of the State and will take the horticulture department to new heights as well. Let’s hope and pray that the horticulture department of Jammu and Kashmir will wake up and provide all kinds of support and facilities to the growers under various government schemes so that more youth of Jammu and Kashmir get attracted towards the sector and take advantages of all schemes for their employment and welfare in particular and Jammu and Kashmir in general.
(The author is a teacher at Boys Higher Secondary School Beerwah. Views are his own)