Umaisar Gull Ganie
Kulgam district of southern Kashmir, once known as ‘Rice – Bowl’ of Kashmir has lost a huge chunk of 7,000 hectares of fertile agricultural land to other activities mostly constructions in the past one decade.
Official figures from Agricultural department accessed by news agency—Kashmir News Observer (KNO), read that Kulgam is having a geographical area of 1067 square kilometres. “In the year 2010 the net cultivated area in Kulgam district was 19,300 hectares and it has decreased to 11,157 hectares till this year (2023)”, figures said.
The area under horticulture department has shown an increase from past 13 years in the district. “In the year 2010 the area under horticulture was 17,178 hectares and it has increased to 19,227 in the year 2023,” the figures state.
Despite the existence of many regulations, the UT government has been unable to prevent the conversion of agricultural land to commercial and residential uses. Farmers said that it is not possible to earn livelihood from the agriculture sector due to which most people have already shifted to the horticulture sector.
“We aren’t even getting the amount from the paddy that we spend on it”, Ghulam Rasool Shah, a farmer said.
He said government food depots have also discontinued the subsidized ration order in the valley. “Now it’s up to agriculture Department to provide us seeds having good productivity so that we can continue paddy farming in future” he added.
Sub-Divsional Agricultural Officer (SDAO) Kulgam, Shujaat Ali told KNO that there is a significant number of farmers who are currently turning their agricultural lands into apple orchards due to the perceived profitability and reduced effort involved.
“However, this approach is resulting in substantial losses,” he said, adding that the authorities should set up criteria to control the conversion of lands in the valley, adding that the authorities should establish rules and mechanisms to regulate land conversion, requiring permission from revenue officials, horticulture officials, and other concerned authorities..
“Kulgam district, once known as a rice-bowl of Kashmir is now witnessing a decline in rice cultivation due to this shifting trend as farmers increasingly opt for apple orchards,” he said. Shujaat said that the department has made available superior rice varieties with high yields in limited seed quantities.
He also informed that the department has started training sessions in each panchayat Halqa under Horticulture Development and Production (HADP) scheme, where farmers are trained about production process and are educated about various schemes