Agriculture and Horticulture related activities are vital for the economy of J&K state owing to the physiographic location of the state. The state grows a variety of foods crops like rice, maize wheat, pulses, oil seeds and has monopoly of growing temperate fruits like apple, pear, peach, plum, apricot, cherry, walnut, almond, quince etc. Seasonal vegetables like tomato-chilli, capsicum, potato, onion, garlic, bottle guard, brinjal etc are also grown since ancient times in the state. Farm women in Kashmir are working in various agricultural related activities for production of various crops. These activities include carrying organic manure to rice fields, transplanting, deweeding, growing vegetables irrigating, harvesting, packing fruits etc. Women of Kashmir have acquired the necessary skills of various agronomic practices. Agriculture produce after harvest is to be subjected to primary, secondary and tertiary processing steps to make it fit for final marketing and consumption with maximum acceptability and convenience.
There is huge wastage of perishable produce in the state owing to post harvest losses. The loss estimated in fruits and vegetables is colossal per annum. Value added Agriculture has attracted attention in recent years as a means to increase and stablise farm incomes and to rejuvenate primary agriculture and the rural economy and in agriculture it has vast untapped opportunities for increasing employment and generate income diversification of the economic base of the agriculture communities increase farmers financial stability and opportunities through development of niche markets. It is a strategic area that offers opportunity for shifting subsistence agriculture to commercial agriculture.
The below mentioned Agripreneurship for farm women can help employment opportunities and poverty alleviation by income generation.
• Walnut and almond processing:-
Walnut after harvests are to be dehulled, dried, graded and packed for selling as whole nuts. The cracked walnuts are graded for colour and size, vacuum packed to be sold as walnut kernels. These operations are done in walnut processing centers in an organized manner where women labour is employed. There are many such units existing in the state which provide good employment opportunities but shell a vast political is available to fully tap this activity.
These units can be setup in walnut producing areas by women entrepreneurs. The machinery for such units is available and demands for such value added products are overwhelming in national as well as in international market.
Similarly Almonds are also to be dried and graded for ensuring quality. The nuts are cracked in a nut cracking machinery and proper packaging can help in value addition of the produce.
• Saffron processing:-
Saffron, the heritage crop is grown in both traditional and non traditional areas of the state. Women labour is employed for plucking of delicate flowers and stigma separation. Pack house processing of saffron, include drying, weighing and scientific packaging. These unit operations can be carried out by women entrepreneurs in a saffron pack house. The member grower deposit their saffron with pack house organizers who process and pack it and make necessary marketing arrangements. Such ventures are also in existence presently in valley.
• Commercial vegetable growing:-
Vegetables cultivation is labour intensive Hybrid vegetable varieties and cultivation of vegetables under protected conditions in Green house structure has revolutionised vegetable production system. Vegetables can be grown in off "seasons" and sold as cash crops in neighboring states. Women vegetable growers trained in scientific production and marketing operations can improve income generation drastically.
• Cut flower and medicinal plant production:-
The climate of Kashmir is conducive for production of various types of cut flowers and medicinal plants in protected/ open field conditions. Medicinal plants of native land can be grown for commercial purposes in various agro-climatic zones. Their collection, drying and packaging may be carried out by women workers as an economic activity. Such units presently existing in the valley are mainly such by women entrepreneurs.
• Fish farming and marketing:-
Fish is a source of protein in our diet. The demand for fish is increasing day by day. Normally in Kashmir fisherwomen are selling fish on road side. Department of fisheries is providing assistance to develop fish ponds in suitable areas in each district. Necessary kits are being provided at subsidized cost for catching fish. The families involved in the trade are given health Insurance cover and housing facilities. Women have better chances of income generation in his activity. However efforts from the government are needed to develop fish markets for the fisher woman where the fish will be sold under hygienic conditions with dignity and honor.
• Dairy Farming/milk production:-
The demand for fresh milk products is ever increasing. The progress of centrally sponsored "Operation Flood" scheme has been seen in Kashmir Valley during last 10 years. Dairy development in district Pulwama, Budgam, Baramula and adjoining areas have increased milk production and number of milk processing plants are in operation in valley itself. Milk production and processing has also been taken up on commercial scale in Leh. Women collect daily milk and supply to the van coming to their doorstep for processing in the near by processing plant.
• Sheep-Goat Rearing:-
Sheep and goat rearing is profitable economic activity in rural households. Women entrepreneurs can establish "Sheep and goat farms" on modern lines for which necessary technical and financial assistance is being provided by the Department of sheep husbandry.
• Silk Worm Rearing:-
Silkworm rearing is a seasonal activity, where lot of skilled human labourers are needed in rearing the silk worm for production of silkworm cocoon. The feed and environment management practice have been standardized for getting a profitable crop by the researchers. The activity is being carried out in various parts of the valley by silkworm growers. The department of sericulture and SKUAST-K is providing necessary financial and technical support for silkworm rearing. The demand for the silk fabric is increasing day by day. There is a great employment potential for women in this area.
• Mushroom growing:-
Under Agro-climatic conditions of Kashmir Valley three crops of button mushroom can be grown. Dignri mushroom can also be grown in the valley.
A temperature of 22-240C for spawn production and 16-180C for fruiting with relative humidity of 90-950C is to be maintained for successful mushroom production. Mushrooms can be grown in wooden/plastic trays or in polythene bags using various types of locally available composting materials. Mushroom training centre SKUAST-K, has developed new varieties of button mushroom for getting higher yield under our climatic conditions. Department of Agriculture (J&K) and SKUAST (K) is providing necessary training to the interested entrepreneurs for mushroom growing various areas. The packaging and processing technology for the said crops has been developed by Division of PHT (SKUAST-K) for industrial use. The activity is eco-friendly and can utilize women work force available in farm families for growing of such crop.
• Honey Processing:-
Apiculture has important role to play in maintaining the production levels of our fruit crops which are main source of our economy. Honey production and processing on scientific technical lines needs skill for honey clarification, pasteurization and bottling.
Honey processing units can be set up in rural areas for processing of honey. Necessary financial and technical support is being provided by Khadi and village Industries, department of Agriculture for honey bee rearing and commercial honey processing activities
• Apricot and Seabuck thorn Processing:-
In Ladakh region (Kargil and Leh) apricot and Seabuck thorn processing is being done mainly by women entrepreneurs. Scientific drying technology developed by SKUAST-(K) Division of PHT has been adopted by the local processors. Osmo-treated and the sulphited apricots dried under solar tunnel drier are hygienic more appealing in colour, sweet in taste and bring higher returns to growers. Similarly jam produced from Seabuck thorn pulp and apricot are sold by the women self help groups as an economy activity for income generation.
• Masala/chilli grinding:-
Various spices are used in our daily cooking by every household Demand for pure spices are always in the market. "Help Foundation" has demonstrated how hard grinding of spices can be a viable economic activity by farm women. The same model can be followed in the countryside of the state by energetic women organization to supply pure, hygienic spices to the community.
• Fruit and Vegetable Processing:-
Individual or community based fruit and vegetable processing units for production of tomato puree, apple and Quince jam, mixed vegetable pickle, dried vegetables can be established in villages. During peak vegetable/fruit season a lot of vegetables/ fruits are available locally which can be processed by local entrepreneurs. This is an important economic activity which will reduce post harvest loss and will make fruits/ vegetables available for meeting nutritional needs of people.
SKUAST-K, is providing necessary training for the said activity to farm women every year free of cost.
• Poultry Farming:-
Poultry rearing is a profitable enterprise for which necessary technical and financial support is being provided by poultry development wing of Veterinary Department and SKUAST-K. Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, breed, feed health and housing management can be oriented to run poultry units.
Empowering women for better quality of life is an important and burning issue today. Directorate of Extension, SKUAST-K, women empowerment cell focuses on technological and economic empowerment of women through education, training and technological interventions using participatory approaches and involving self help women groups. Various income generating activities can be undertaken by farm women to have economic independence. Government agencies, universities and NGOs are pulling their efforts to help women entrepreneurs technically, financially and morally by providing more and more employment opportunities thereby generating income so that poverty at rural/ urban household is reduced.
(Authors teach at Women Empowerment Cell Directorate of Extension SKUAST-K, Shalimar)