Ploughs, rakes replace guns as northern Kashmir finds peace with farming - Hindustan Times
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Ploughs, rakes replace guns as northern Kashmir finds peace with farming

ByMir Ehsan, Balkote
May 03, 2023 02:58 AM IST

Currently, 120 hectares of land in the northern Kashmir is under pea cultivation and produce per hectare varies from 30 to 40 quintals

{The future’s green}

A farmer tending to his crop in a village in Kashmir’s Uri district. (HT Photo)
A farmer tending to his crop in a village in Kashmir’s Uri district. (HT Photo)

Under the watchful eyes of Pakistani Army posts on a nearby hillock, 53-year-old Naseer Ahmad Mir, a resident of northern Kashmir’s Nambla village at the Line of Control (LoC), is busy tending to peas farm — a new addition being grown in the region on an experimental basis.

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“This is the first time that I cultivated peas on the insistence of officials of the agriculture department on more than half a hectare of land in my village. Now, I am waiting to harvest it in one go,” Mir said, adding that peace in the region has allowed for farming and experimentation in villages close to the LoC. “They (officials) provided us with new seed and hopefully if we earn good this year then this will become our major cultivation product in future.”

“After peas, we will sow sweet corn in our fields,” he exclaims.

Mir is not the only villager treading the path. There are in fact over half a dozen locals who have grown peas this year. “I sold my crop soon after the harvest last week and got good rates,” said Abdul Lateef, another farmer at Nambla, the village that has seen many deaths due to cross LoC shelling in the past years.

As the guns have fallen silent along the LoC after India and Pakistan declared ceasefire in 2021, the fields and orchards of Uri are yielding different varieties of vegetables and fruits as villagers are able to spend more time in their fields courtesy the peaceful environs.

A first for Uri

The border town with 102 villages is all set to become a vegetable hub of north Kashmir as for the first time, the peas produced in fields of Uri were exported to Asia’s largest fruit mandi in Azadpur Delhi.

The first batch of 400 kg organic peas was dispatched to mandi by air from Srinagar airport. “We have great potential for export of peas. It’s for the first time that peas from Uri were dispatched to Azadpur fruit mandi and the peas fetched a good price,” sub division agriculture officer Daljit Singh said, adding, “Earlier we used to get peas from other states in Jammu for Kashmir. Now peas from Uri are sold here.”

Officials concerned and farmers are now setting their eyes on the markets of the Middle East, especially Dubai. And if everything goes as per plan, the peas cultivated in the remote Uri villages could be sold at food chains in Dubai and the other Gulf countries from next season.

“We did it on an experimental basis and fetched 30 more per kg than Srinagar markets. We have introduced the new seeds PB 89 which is showing tremendous results and every year more and more area is being brought under the vegetable cultivation in Uri,” said Daljit Singh. who played a pivotal role in the promotion of the agriculture sector in the border area.

“In the next few years, the villages of Uri could be a game changer in vegetable, mushroom and other items,” he added.

Building a support system

The region was previously known for its walnut production in small landholdings. Support from the agriculture department, however, helped farmers turning unutilised land into productive farming fields and the majority of farmers are encouraged to use manure rather than the fungicides and fertilisers.

Abdul Qayoom Khan and his three children are earning their livelihood from the agricultural products and they were first to export 3.5 quintals of peas from Uri. “We were encouraged to grow peas by officials and now hope the reap could be around 25 to 30 quintal.”

“We collectively work in the fields and now we want our future generations to take our mission forward,” he said, while working in the fields.

A unique produce

The peas cultivated in Uri are unique in taste due to the moderate environment and the special quality of soil. “Our peas are first to arrive in Jammu and Kashmir. And now more and more people are cultivating the crop,” said Afzal Khan who was also working in his farm.

In Uri, peas, a crop sown in the month of November and reaped in April, are cultivated at Warikah, Salamabad and Nambla divisions.

Officials said currently 120 hectares of land is under pea cultivation and produce per hectare varies from 30 to 40 quintals at an average. Other vegetable varieties like tomato, knol khol, cucumber, bottle gourd, brinjal are the major vegetable varieties which could become cash crops in near future.

Agriculture Extension Officer, Gurdeep Singh said the department has distributed the seed at farmers’ doorstep in far flung areas and villages close to the LoC. “We are trying to get GI certification for some vegetables of Uri that could fetch handsome rates and villagers can earn their livelihood from selling vegetables,” he added.

Owais Shafi from Salamabad, who graduated with an MBA from Punjab has been cultivating peas in one of his plots and thinks it could bring good dividends. Hopeful of further growth, he said, “From last year I started cultivation of peas on my 3.5 kanal of land. So far, I have already sold 1,500 kg and expect a couple of hundred kg more in the coming days. Hopefully in the coming years, this could become our major cash crop.”

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