Away from the city hustle, there is a sprawling 30 kanal piece of land at Bugam near Chadoora in central Kashmir’s Budgam district, where “Sabzar Nurseries” presents a glaring example of “agri entrepreneurship”.
Established as a private nursery, under Central Government’s ‘Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) Programme’, Sabzar Nurseries is a successful case of ‘diversification’.
The landowners of Sabzar Nurseries, who are pioneers of book publishing business in the Valley, in 2018 decided to opt for a business diversification which according to them any established Srinagar-based business house would have thought twice before doing.
Muhammad Hussain Shah, a former Director of SKUAST and now project consultant and adviser for Sabzar Nurseries says the core philosophy of this hi-tech nursery apart from producing and supplying good quality plant material of diverse horticulture crops to the farming community, is to empower the nearby villages of the nursery.
“Boosting agriculture and horticulture sectors is the need of the hour. The fact that land in Bugam area is fertile for such purposes was an added benefit to kick start this nursery,” said Shah.
The top management of Sabzar Nurseries is also of the opinion that the factor of shrinking agricultural land was well in their mind when in 2018 they decided to develop a barren land acquired by their ancestors several decades ago. “For our group it was important to witness a smooth transition from the book publishing business to agriculture and horticulture sectors. Since the land was lying barren, we gave it a serious thought of diversifying our business to the plant nursery segment,” said a member of the top management of Sabzar.
He said 40 per cent of their focus is already on the nursery business which they want to achieve an exponential growth in years to come. “High density root stocks and graffitable plants is the unique aspect of Sabzar Nurseries. We have in the pipeline to produce walnut and almond plants on a large scale,” says Shah.
As per Shah the diverse horticulture crops especially pear, apple, almond and walnut, which are true to type with known genetic traits and certified root stocks, is in the core mandate of Sabzar nurseries.
As per the top management of the group, the first two years of establishing Sabzar Nurseries was mainly around making investments. “Now that we are in the third year of this business, we have salable plants ready for sale,” said the management executive.
As per the heads of the group, a lot of focus has been put into layering stock as part of a long term investment for next 15 years. “We have 15 varieties of high density apple grafted plant. The main aim is to optimize production and productivity per unit area and time together with the area expansion. We are also keen that there is hassle free availability of plants having certified root stocks for the agriculturists,” says the vision document of Sabzar Nurseries.
While the growth story of Sabzar Nurseries has been quite progressive, there have been tough times to face as well. A point in case is the November 7 snowfall of the last year when the nursery suffered huge losses. “We had 300-400 plants damaged and had submitted the loss assessment to the government for compensation. At that point we spoke up for the entire horticulture fraternity of the Valley and had urged the government that due compensation must be paid to those who suffered losses,” said the executive of the company.
The executive said Horticulture Department especially the Director Horticulture has played an important role in the growth and development of the Sabzar Nursery. The ups and downs aside, mantra to success at Sabzar Nurseries is to not let the zest die down, its top management feels.
In a short span of three years, on the 30 kanals at the Bugam nursery, Sabzar has come-up with a state-of-the-art green house facility which is capable to maintain temperature up to 50 degrees Celsius inside to allow growth of the plants. The automatic tillers in the polyhouse ensure least interference of manual labour.
Management at the Sabzar Nurseries is keen that employment generation is one the key takeaways of this business. “We have almost 8 employees right now but we want to multiply it to almost 50 employees in next year or so. It is such as pleasure to watch the laborers and employees putting in their hard work for the growth and development of the project,” says the top executive.
The guided tour at this sprawling facility is incomplete without watching the vermi-composting unit where Sabzar Nurseries processes indigenous composting matter. “Look, this is an upcoming poultry farm where will be getting chicken from outside the Valley which will not be for sale but will lay eggs and carry out the de-weeding of the nursery which brings down the labour cost,” says another employee at the nursery.
At this sprawling unit, it is difficult to give a miss to the organised facilities which have become a part of the Sabzar Nurseries. The bore well unit, tube well unit, high tech irrigation system and hi tech green houses have been set-up in the most systematic order.
As per Shah, Sabzar Nurseries is looking forward to events such as the forthcoming Global Investor Summit where horticulture sector is one the key focus areas. “Government is in the process of developing nurseries across the Valley for which there is need for good plant material. This is where a concept such as Sabzar Nurseries can come handy,” Shah says.
As per Shah, Sabzar Nurseries is under the round-the-clock watch of competent scientists while it has already received multiple certifications from the Department of Horticulture. “Plants commonly sold in the market are not quality worthy. We want to change that trend and provide value for money to the growers and farmers,” says Shah.
In order to ensure this Sabzar Nurseries has installed a farm machinery unit, water storage tank, and bio-toilet blocks. “These toilets are eco-friendly and its water is recycled for supplemental irrigation. Our round the clock electricity facility and chain-link fencing is also something which has added value,” he said.
The nursery which offers a scenic view has three major blocks which includes layering block, graftable block and grafted block. “All the stocks are developed from ‘clonal’ root stock which is a dwarfing root stock, which grows up to height of 2.5 meter and starts bearing fruits from 2-3 years,” Shah says.
He says there are other root stock procured for larger multiplication programme while graftable stock (M9) has been grafted with 15 varieties such as Fuji, Scarlet Spur II, Scarlet Spur III, Jeromine, Super Chief , Redlum Gala, Red Vilox, Red Chief Cam Spur, Gala Mast, Red Chief, Zen Fuji, Lal Ambri, Early Red One, Golden Delicious Clone B. “Besides, we will also be developing a mother orchard including all those elite varieties with a scope to enhance their genetic base. We have planted nearly 400 plants of Pear to serve as a bud wood bank for area expansion,” says Shah.
These varieties include Starkrimson, Red Anjou, Max Red Bartlette, Coscia and Sandy Pear. At the Sabzar Nursery, efforts are also on to develop almond and walnut plants of promising varieties and its expansion programme has been undertaken.
Even as top executives and owners of Sabzar Nurseries show the visitors the farm around, employees who look upon eagerly are busy in their daily chores. “It is a team work and at the end of the day we are happy that we are a part of the Sabzar family,” says an employee at the Bugam nursery.
As per the top management, it is this willingness of the employees to work as a team which has helped the hi-tech nursery to witness a growth over last three years. The management is so happy with the results that it is now pinning a lot of hopes on procuring more land in the nearby area to develop more nurseries. “We want to involve youngsters in this sector so that our heritage of horticulture and agriculture is preserved and more youth are attracted to this sector,” says Shah, who believes that horticulture is the backbone of the Valley and says “let’s all preserve it.”