Dr Afifa S Kamili, Director Extension Education SKUAST-K and Director State Agricultural Management & Extension Training Institute (SAMETI) in an interview with Greater Kashmir says that food and nutritional security, rising unemployment, sustainable agriculture, commercial agriculture, environmental protection and socio-economic development have increasingly become matters of concern for Jammu and Kashmir and are also challenges before extension system. Excerpts:
Q. How is Directorate of Extension reaching the far flung areas where we have good number of poor farmers?
Dissemination of knowledge and technological interventions are the prime mandate of the Directorate of Extension. Unless and until the technologies developed by the research system reach the farmers in an efficient manner, research has no meaning. Directorate of Extension is trying hard to reach the farmers in every nook and corner of Kashmir & Ladakh division through extension centers and a net work of KVKs located in each district, equipped with a well devised and approved yearly Action Plan regarding on and off campus training programmes, front line demonstrations, awareness camps, disease diagnostic visits, supply of improved seeds and plant material, entrepreneurship development programmes besides preparing farmers to face the vagaries of weather like floods, drought, excessive rains, heat, low temperatures etc. Crop contingent plans developed in advance is also provided to the farmers under adverse such conditions. For instant dissemination of information, Farmers Portal Service available with all the KVKs is also practically in use for the purpose.
Q. Many people say that a good number of farmers are unaware about the KVKs and their functioning. Why is it so?
To some extent it could be right and main reason for this could be poor infrastructure, roads, transport, information and communication system, poor literacy rate among the farming community. Despite these constraints, KVKs are trying hard to reach every village of a district and carry out both off and on campus programmes efficiently and effectively. Our KVK scientists have been instructed and are trying to reach out to farmers through every possible way where media particularly Krishi darshan, butraat and zarai khabar is an important component and we often publish need based farming advisories through news papers to keep our farmers updated.
Q. There is a feeling that KVKs are not paying attention to the present day agricultural needs and problems of society. Is that true?
Ans. Successful launch of 4 new KVKs during the last 2 years, 3 in Kashmir valley and one in Leh (Nyoma) is a great achievement and indicates that KVK are in demand and are doing well as per the needs of the farmers and society. Besides carrying out mandatory activities like transfer of technologies, demonstrations, capacity building and awareness programems, consultancy, disease diagnosis etc, KVKs have been given a new direction and action plan in accordance with the present day needs and demands. These include shifting from subsistence farming to commercial farming, inorganic agriculture to organic agriculture, revival of heritage crops, cultivation of cash crops, integrated farming, and producing innovative value added products besides collection and documentation of indigenous technical knowledge (ITK), popularize eco-engineering models for plant/animal health management and eco-friendly technologies for environmental protection. Further demo units of various types like poultry, dairy, apiculture, fishery, others are available and are being opened in each KVK to have practical training of farmers and entrepreneurs through such demo units.
Q. Technology advancements are now-a-days taking place in every field whether agriculture or non agriculture. How different are technology advancement in agriculture from that of other sectors?
This is the age of technologies and it is right that technology advancements are taking place in every sphere of life but technology advancements in agriculture, education and health alone are key components of vision of any nation/State. However, miracles in economic growth happen only with the innovations in agriculture and education. Our state is thus very particular about agricultural and economic prosperity in the state which ultimately leads to peace.
Q. During the last 60 years, agriculture development policies have shown good success by achieving the Green Revolution. Why these strategies are not yielding good dividends now?
The main reason of achieving the Green Revolution in our country was because of policies emphasizing the use of inorganic external inputs and use of irrigation in non-rainfed areas which led to the massive consumption of pesticides and fertilizers and use of inorganic feed stuffs etc. These external inputs have ultimately substituted for natural resources rendering these less powerful and rather redundant which has adversely affected the health of all natural resources be that water, soil, plants, animals, humans etc. Chemical pesticides have replaced biological and cultural process for managing weeds, pests and diseases. Inorganic fertilizers have substituted for live stock manures, composts, nitrogen fixing crops etc. Availability of spurious inorganic inputs have further expounded the situation. All this has led to unhealthy soils, unhealthy foods, polluted water and environment, loss of biodiversity, ecological imbalance and unsustainable agriculture. Unhealthy soils, unhealthy foods have become major challenges.
Q.How can we achieve sustainable agriculture under present scenario?
The basic challenge for sustainable agriculture is to protect and make better use of internal resources. This can be done by minimizing external inorganic input use by regenerating, conserving and using natural resources efficiently, while protecting the environment. Evidences are now emerging that resource conservation technologies have the potential to improve agricultural economy and achieve environmental and health goals. However, a necessary condition for sustainable agriculture is that large members of farmers need to be motivated to follow a coordinated resource management system for which sound infrastructure and skilled human resource is required.
Q. There is a wide notion that the progress in agriculture is only associated with the availability of quality seeds and planting material. What are your comments in this regard?
I must say that selecting right seeds or quality planting material alone is not enough to progress. It is very important to combine the quality seeds/ planting material with the knowledge of eco-engineering and eco friendly technologies and models as well skilled man power to develop healthy orchards/fields with the requisite irrigation and drainage facilities and availability of pollinators and pollinisers (in case of fruit orchards) in a requisite ratio.
Q. What are the challenges before the extension education system?
Food and nutritional security, rising unemployment, sustainable agriculture, commercial agriculture, environmental protection and socio-economic development have increasingly become matters of concern for our state and are also challenges before extension system. We have to make an in-depth study of the environmental issues and the problems faced by the society, farmers, growers, extension workers to provide compatible solution which could be disseminated to stakeholders through an able knowledge transfer system. A well established extension system can help a nation/state to achieve the goal by installing good infrastructure, availability of diverse and skilled human resource, providing liberal funding to bring quality in academics leading to generation of highly skilled youth power with new thoughts and ideas on researchable issues and translation of research into practice for bringing improvement in production and quality of produce in a sustainable manner to meet the challenges of farmers, society and that of 21st century.
Q. What are the future extension strategies to increase the income of farmers?
In order to make agriculture more remunerative, it is important to bring business in agriculture based on the demand of the consumers. We have to advise farmers which crop has the potential to give more economic benefits. Therefore need of hour is to shift from subsistence farming to commercial farming and producing cash crops viz. fruits, vegetables, saffron, etc. besides promoting our traditional and unique crops like Kamand, Zagtumul, Mushkbudgi, Heerpora and Gulmarg Potato, Rajmash, Kashmiri Chilli, floricultural crops, value added products etc is the need of hour. Now-a-days consumers have become health conscious and don't want to purchase the foods containing toxic elements of pesticides and fertilizers, while they are ready to pay any price for the foods which are free from toxic elements, there is need to cultivate crops organically in an integrated manner to meet their demands. Therefore, we are trying to motivate farmers to bring business in agriculture and grow crops organically to introduce climate smart agriculture.
Q. As a lady Director Extension , what role is being played for the empowerment of women of this state?
Empowering women of my state has been my earnest desire. Women of this state especially Kashmir valley are shy and don't mix up freely and remain far behind in developing their personality and earning their livelihood. To overcome this problem, special skill development and income generation programmes have been launched for women in all the KVKs and the Directorate where women interact freely and develop skill of various kinds, to establish micro enterprise. Even women SHGs have also been developed and linked to financial institutions so that they can establish their units to earn livelihood. I am hopeful with the launch of many such programmes, the women are not only developing leadership qualities but earning livelihood also which will make future of our women secure and bright. The University is also trying to establish a women KVK in Kashmir which will be first of its kind in the country and will help empowering the women.