In November last year Union Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh, while inaugurating a 3 day expo titled Kashmir Expo Start-ups for Livelihood in Srinagar said that Jammu and Kashmir has a huge potential of becoming the hub of agri-tech start-ups and technology can value add to the products from the region with its immense biodiversity.
DR Jitendra Singh in his address highlighted major sectors like agriculture, biomedical engineering, telemedicine and so on that can be the prime focus areas for start-ups in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and said that the area is fast evolving. He said that by making innovations and technological interventions Bamboo grown in Jammu can be converted to several useful products including incense sticks (Agarbattis) while the shelf life of fruits like apples, strawberries can be increased through different cold-chain technological interventions.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) set up by the United Nations in 2015 to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030 are said to address several challenges. These include poverty, inequality, climate change, peace , justice and environmental degradation. Economic growth, environmental protection and social inclusion. Climate change , environmental degradation and sustainable agriculture are the important aspects of these goals. Sustainable environment can only be achieved when there are increased investments in renewable energy and sustainable agricultural practices.
Stop Mining activities
Secretary, Mining Department, Amit Sharma in November 2022 during his visit to Maharashtra invited Global Mineral Developers to invest in Jammu and Kashmir. While speaking during the two day International Conference and Exhibition on Mineral Business Development, 2022 organised at Nagpur, Secretary Mining asked mining companies to invest in J&K. This would be disastrous in view of our fragile mountain ecosystem. By asking prospective Global players to invest in exploring the excavation of Lithium, Bauxite, Limestone, Gypsum, Marble, Lignite, Graphite etc., the Govt will be committing big blunder by going ahead with such disastrous exercise. By giving examples of coal mines of Kalkote area of Rajouri or inviting mining giants to J&K the Secretary mining forgot the commitments made by PM Modi at COP 26 conference last year. At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, Prime Minister Modi said India will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. This was one of the five major commitments or panchamrit made on behalf of India, to mitigate climate change. The rest of the 4 commitments are as under:
1. India will bring its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030
2. India will bring its economy’s carbon intensity down to 45 % by 2030
3. India will fulfil 50 per cent of its energy requirement through renewable energy by 2030
4. India will reduce 1 billion tonnes of carbon emissions from the total projected emissions by 2030
Using agricultural land for non farm activities will be disastrous for us in future. Jammu & Kashmir cannot afford to set up cement industries or undertake mining in riverbeds or mountains or destroy our karewas for filling wetland’s and highways. As Dr Jitendra Singh said J&K has to become the hub of agri-tech start-ups, the Govt needs to completely shift its focus on setting up agri based start-ups in J&K and make sure more and more investments are done in this sector only.
Sher e Kashmir Agriculture University (SKUAST) Kashmir / Jammu , Sheep Husbandry and Animal Husbandry departments need to have collaborative programme with Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) who fund and support agri based start-up’s in J&K. Ajaz Ahmad Bhat has taken over as Director EDI few months back and I am sure he will consider local demands in the Agriculture and horticulture sector and train the youth accordingly as he is known for his great work as DG Horticulture Department. For proper market linkages the authorities need to bring in a policy guaranteeing Minimum Support Price (MSP) of the local agri / horticulture produce like Apple, Rajma, Walnuts etc. Furthermore the farmers & entrepreneurs need to be institutionalised into Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) and cooperatives. Govt & NGOs need to sensitize the farmers to get crop insurance done which is much needed in J&K as inclement weather conditions destroy our apple crops every year and then apple farmers are urging Govt to give them financial assistance which is impossible for the Govt.
In many regions of J&K especially the Chenab valley or Pir Panjal region there is very bad road connectivity. Doda, Kishtwar, Bhaderwah are only connected to the rest of India through NH44 which due to frequent landslides and shooting stones remains blocked thus losing contact with other states. The condition of the highway needs to be strengthened along with Doda –Kishtwar- Sinthan road. In spite of having huge water resources, most of the villages in Chenab belt or Pir Panjal are rain-fed and lack irrigation facilities. Several lift irrigation projects have to be taken up on priority. The Directorate of Command Area Development Jammu has to play a key role in this direction.
NTFP and Apiculture
Non timber forest produce (NTFP) like Guchis , Mushrooms and other medicinal plants are found in great abundance in J&K. Chenab valley or Pir Panjaal region (Rajouri , Poonch) have good quality of honey and NTFPs but this is not not properly marketed. Its production, sale and marketing needs to be taken up by a collaborative method involving state Forest department and J&K Medicinal Plants Board. The Ministry of Ayush Govt of India had agreed to provide some two hundred crores for setting up a research center in Bhaderwah some years ago, but the work on the same is not going at a good pace. Jammu & Kashmir region has the best quality of wild honey, but on a commercial basis apiculture is yet to be developed. The olive (zaitoon) farming which was taken up more than 30 years back in Doda, Ramban and Kishtwar has not been expanded even to three or four dozen villages in spite of the fact that wild olive trees called Kuh are found in abundance in Chenab valley. The olive grafts can be inserted in these wild trees and that has worked with 80 to 90 % success rate in the past.
In view of the geographical location of Jammu & Kashmir with fast urbanisation, the thrust of the Government should be on sustainable development as we cannot afford to set up industries that will threaten our environment and cause ecological disasters in the coming years. Sustainable agricultural practices can only be achieved when the Govt explores more and more investments in agriculture sector. The use of pesticides and fungicides has also to be brought down and a lot of research and development needs to be done to set up model organic apple farms or vegetable farms across J&K. Govt must ban giving permission for new riverbed mining (RBM) , setting up pollution causing industries like Brick Kilns , Cement Factories etc. More than 1000 almond trees have been axed in Rangeen Kultreh village of Chadoora to set up fresh brick kilns few months back. I visited the village myself last month & saw this disaster. The Pollution Control Committee is said to have given NOC for this ? Authorities need to take this seriously. When Govt speaks of industrial investments in J&K , it should be green investments. Once our environment is impacted it would impact our tourism as well….
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is also the Anant Fellow for Climate Action