Harvest traditional edible plant resources

C M Sharma
George Washington said long ago, “Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment source of man.”The statement refers to all the three dimensions of human need that are;the health, wealth and wisdom respectively. A large majority of population of the present times however, may not concur with the statement!
Catalysed by scientific interventions and inventions, the desire of peoplefor switching over to comfortable life styles is fast multiplying and changing the world altogether. Higher agricultural production per unit area and time have been achieved through higher levels of awareness, knowledge and technology, but simultaneously, the value of manual and draft labour in agriculture has declined.
Adulteration, indiscriminate use of chemicals and shift from the traditionally sustainable farming practices to exhaustive farming systems have converted agriculture to one of the most polluting, uneconomic and unimpressive employment sources of man during the past few decades. The impact is pronounced in the countries and regions where populations are dense, farm holding size are small, cultivable lands are scattered and farming is rainfed or dryland.
The Government of J&K has been implementing various own programmes and Centrally Sponsored Schemes /Central Sector Schemes for welfare of farmers and ‘agri – entrepreneurs’ for the past many years. These have contributed to higher production through adoption of improved varieties, hybrid seeds and animal breeds. Gains are significant in some of the major field crops like rice, maize, wheat and vegetables, low chilling varieties of apple, high densityfruit plantations, commercialisation of floriculture, dairy farming, sheep and animal husbandry, pisciculture, etc.
However, it isbeing consistently observed that a lot of focus is still required on orientation of farmers to work in collaborative and mission mode to meet the triple demand of ‘technology, inputs and finance’for regular upgradation ofagro-climatic-zone based farming systems, sub-region based growth strategies and establishment of agri-business enterprises involving efficient land, soil and water management,high value traditional/ indigenous crops, organic farming, integrated use of pesticides and fertilizers, greater mechanization in hills and plains, quality control processes for inputs and products, besides on-farm and off-farm post-harvest and marketing infrastructure to maximize income and employment generation.Custom Hiring Centres for providing agricultural services have a great scope in tomorrow’s agriculture, whereas the Direct Marketing of farm produce remains the best of all viable options for farmer producers, for best economic returns. No government can however afford to lose sight of back-up support to farmers through market intervention in times of crisis.
Regarding conservation, promotion and utilisation of high value traditional edible resources of Jammu Agriculture, it needs no emphasis that the region abounds in plant biodiversity. It is however depressing to note that this natural wealth is being attended to the bare minimum, despite of their high nutritional, medicinal and economic value. There is a little or no value addition to these products though most of these are organic by default.Anardana, Olive, Honey (particularly drawn from flowers of Solai (Plectranthusrugosus) bushes, Ganthia Thom of Udhampur, Rajmash of Bhaderwah, Marwah and Paddar etc., Tarad, Colocasia, Maize of Rajouri and Poonch, Lesser millets likeCheena, Kangni and Salan of Doda and Kishtwar, Saffron of Kishtwar, Amluk (Perssimon/Date Plum), Ber (Zizyphus), Phalsa, Amla, Harad, Bheda, Bamboo etc. in Jammu, Kathua, Samba districts can yield rich dividends to farmers if specific clusters are further developed and strengthened for their value added production and marketing amongst targeted consumers at a premium price for the growers.Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand have done it. Why can’t J&K?
It is heartening that the J&K State Advisory Board for Development of Kisans has taken a pioneering step towards revival ofthe highly relished and ethnic edible products of Kashmir by organizing a workshop under the caption “Revival of Fish Production, Scope of Nadroo (Nelumbo nucifera), Value addition to Chestnuts, its viability and Entrepreneurship in Wular Lake and Manasbal Lake” at Tagore Hall, Srinagar on 21June, 2022. The workshop will spin out a comprehensive strategy and programme of action for revival of the specified products by focusing on SWOT Analysis of the production systems by experts in respective fields.The deliberations are likely to come out with concrete recommendations for amelioration of pathetic condition of producers also.
We hope that such an initiative for the traditional edible agricultural products of Jammu region will be replicated by the Kisan Board soon under the overall guidance of Financial Commissioner (Agriculture)/ Addl. Chief Secretary, who happens to be the Vice-ChairmanofJ&K State Advisory Board for Development of Kisans also.The Department of Agriculture Production and Farmers Welfare of Jammu and Kashmir is currently poised well for holding of village wise and farmer wise survey and undertaking detailed census of resources’ availability and utilisation, besides establishing comprehensive benchmarks for input and output management processes and turnover.
Almost all the major land use departments like agriculture, horticulture, floriculture, sericulture, fisheries, animal husbandry, sheep husbandry, command area development and the agriculture universities of Jammu and Kashmir are currently functioning under the unified command and control of Atal Dulloo, IAS as the Financial Commissioner (Addl. Chief Secretary). His directions to all subordinate departments to conduct long overdue census of agriculture and allied departments in the shortest possible time with the use of satellite based and core technologies, by sufficiently trained manpower of concerned departments, can yield better synergy, convergence and coordination in framing and implementing effective policies, schemes and decisions for overall growth and sustainable development in this dynamic field; enhanced production efficiency and decreased environmental degradation being the key to sustainability.
There has been a lot of diversifications in land and water use pattern / system during the past few years towards both, agricultural and non-agricultural purposes,due to acceleration in development works. It is high time that all line departments reassess these changes and establish correct benchmarks in all the districts to enable realistic evaluation of progress. It will require correct inventorization of prevailing farming systems in digital mode, with details of resources, inputs used, production and income at the level of individual farming family. Successive aggregation of data at the level of respective villages and panchayats, community development blocks, districts, division, and finally the Union Territory/State, will form the solid foundation for formulation of Farm Production Plans for succeeding seasons. Unfortunately, this aspect is the most ignored and often taken casually.Obviously, it is not uncommon to find the Departments of Revenue (Statistics) and Agriculture Production coming up with their own set of contradictory data. Needless to say, that if our bench marks are unrealistic, our development strategies, efforts and achievements are bound to go haywire!
Activities like the proposed Workshops have the potential to throw required light on the status of relevant production clusters, area and production data, agronomy of crops and their nutritional and economic value, post-harvest management and marketing techniques, besides scope and challenges.These workshops can show the way forward to restore the qualities of ‘healthfulness, usefulness and the most noble employment source’to agriculture in the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
The author is Dy. Director of Agriculture (Retd.)