Chief Agriculture Officer Tashi Tsetan: Over the years, we have witnessed a drastic change in the agriculture sector. Earlier people adopt agriculture practices for self-sustenance and were depended on it. People used to cultivate a limited variety of crops, hardly new crops were explored due to lack of market facility. With time, the lifestyle of people changed and they drifted away from agriculture. And shifted to other professions due to less scope.
Earlier agricultural work was carried out unitedly by the members of the families and villagers and there were no issues of manpower. But things started changing and are no longer remained the same, today children study outside, families became nuclear. Cultivable lands are turned into buildings.
With the change in the climate today we cultivate varieties of vegetables and crops and there is a huge scope in agriculture. Along with this scope, manpower is replaced by the highly equipped machine, quantity improved and increased with the availability of high-quality hybrid seeds and materials which result in income generation. At present locals supply their vegetables to the army.
Different organization are doing research on the various scope, ways and varieties of crop and vegetables which can be grown in Ladakh. Today we can grow all types of summer, European and Mediterranean vegetables. In Khaltse, Leh and Nubra belt the production of summer vegetables like bottle gourd, leafy vegetables, muskmelon, watermelon etc. are very good.
When we talk about the market, we have a huge scope because the vegetables which we cultivate like peas, cauliflower, cabbage, beans etc. are matured in June and July.
These vegetables can be transported and sold in other parts of India because the production of such vegetables is not found in any other parts of India because of the onset of rainy season. This can prove a very big opportunity to the farmers of Ladakh to earn well.
Ten years back, Department of Agriculture and Cooperative of Farmers Association have sent a truck full of cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, and peas outside and were sold at good price. That was a result-oriented trial but was in need of entrepreneurs to carry out the task.
To promote and develop agriculture, the department provides many facilities and schemes. For eg. Commercial greenhouse facilities, machines, and equipment, hybrid seeds on subsidized rates.
At present agriculture has taken a back seat. People are more into making easy money without much labour involved. People are more into the tourism industry which is not sustainable in the long run. It is important to continue agriculture practice along with other professions as it will keep us intact with our land.
We have introduced tractors of Chinese and Japanese technology suitable for the hilly and mountainous region like ours. This reduces the time and needs less manpower.
All these machines, equipment are made available to the people at nominal rates so that many can afford and utilize it.
There are many farmers who avail these benefits and has revived the farming which was left abandoned for many years.
We still have to explore many crops and also marketing. We have crops like buckwheat which has very high value outside. Such crops need to be developed and valued.
Also, we are focusing on Organic farming, 100% organic is impossible until and unless we have natural manures availability in abundance. But at present, we are in lack of natural manures. To fill this gap the department is looking forward to the various compost techniques which are carried out at a small scale. To make it successful we need a bigger plan.
The department also conducts a farmer study camp in various villages to educate them about various benefits, schemes, plans and choice for them. We also aware them about various cultivation options, scopes, and techniques.
•Awareness among people is very important
•Modern technologies should be made available at an affordable price to encourage the farmers.
•Market facilities and strong opportunities are needed to encourage them to grow and cultivate more.
•The value and scope of various crops need to be explored and make the farmers adopt it.
Jigmat Norboo, Research student in Centre for Study of Regional Development (JNU): Agriculture has been the mainstay of the economy of Ladakh ensuring food, nutrition and livelihood security to its inhabitants. For centuries, it has remained self-sustained and self-reliant providing livelihood security to its inhabitants. However, due to population growth, change in occupation instigated by rapid modernisation, the region has witnessed significant changes in the traditional agricultural system in terms of agricultural land-use, cropping pattern and input use. These changes have made a considerable impact on the society and economy of the region.
Availability of land for agriculture is an important factor in high altitude regions like Ladakh. The small landholdings with an average size of 1.3 hectares scattered on undulating terrain make mechanization a difficult task. About 52.57 per cent of the reporting area is either barren or uncultivable due to various location-related reasons.
As populations grow, a large proportion of agricultural land is being encroached upon by growing tourism and urbanization. Increasingly a lot of lands has been put under non-agricultural as the construction of roads, new buildings, hotels, residence. The already small size of landholdings is further shrinking.
Owing to recent developments in terms of better connectivity and increased access to markets, there has been a major shift in cropping pattern from traditional food grains to commercial cash crops.
As the cultivated area remains more or less constant, the increased demand for food because of increase in population and urbanisation puts agricultural land under stress resulting in crop intensification and substitution of food crops with the commercial crop.
In fact, it is striking to observe that area under wheat crop declined by -20.03 per cent from 1996-97 to 2014-15 in favour of barley which has a cultural and religious significance. The decline in area under wheat crop may be mainly due to easy availability of wheat in the market and through government subsidised Public Distribution System (PDS). According to a farmer (whom interviewed during my fieldwork), “the introduction of PDS has led people to feel that they are food secure gradually forgetting their traditional practice of grain reserve management”. They have gradually moved towards growing cash crops, thus reducing, year by year, the extent of land area devoted to growing food grains for their personal consumption. Thus, the area under fruits and vegetable cultivation has registered a significant increase in recent years to meet the demand of army, tourists and local urban people. Moreover, recent initiatives made by various institutions like FRL, State agricultural department, and horticultural department have also enabled local farmers to grow successfully different varieties of newly introduced crops, especially vegetables. The increase in crop diversity has helped them to increase their income and improve the nutritional uptake. According to DRDO, at present 50 per cent of Army’s fresh vegetables requirement is fulfilled by the local farmers (local farmers cooperative is supplying 20 different kinds of vegetables to the Army.
When interviewed local farmers, I found that earlier a small community of families, part of village or whole of a small village join hands to perform agricultural operations. This has been changing as the younger generation, in particular, is losing interest in the cultivation and a huge chunk of potential farmers have been absorbed by the growing tourism and establishment of the army. In recent years, the traditional ties of reciprocity, the system of exchange labour are being replaced by the employment of hired labour.
The crop production and animal husbandry has very much been dependent on each other providing tillage, transportation of manure and produce. However, in recent years, there has been a decline in cattle population which has adversely impacted the agricultural system. Though it is interesting to note that the change is more pronounced in the village's proximity to an urban centre where mechanization and scientific methods have been introduced in agriculture by using tractors and threshers.
Expansion of agricultural land with the help of irrigation, introduction of fertilizers and improved varieties of seed and of new crops especially vegetables have led to increasing in production and trade.
Levels of innovation have already registered considerable progress in the fast changing scenario of the agricultural economy. These innovations have tremendously increased the per capita income and raised the living standards of the inhabitants in recent decades.
But the shift towards commercialization and progressive intensification of agricultural activities in the fragile environmental conditions has attracted the attention of environmentalists, government bodies, developmental agencies, and academicians. Questions have been raised about the viability and sustainability of agriculture and vulnerability of the natural resource base of the region. Furthermore, the intensive cash cropping with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides will lead to the potential threat of the extinction of traditional seed varieties and traditional knowledge of cultivating them and secondly has caused ecological damage. There are only a few empirical studies with in-depth analysis of issues showing concerns associated with the agricultural economy of the region. Therefore, it becomes imperative to study the various changes in the nature of the agricultural economy.
•Traditional agriculture system of Ladakh needs to be further researched upon and understood to plan and design progressive and sustainable agriculture system.
•By introducing improved varieties of crops from other parts of the country, there is a need to study local varieties and evolve improved varieties of crops.
•Since irrigation is the prerequisite for crop production, irrigation facilities are the first and foremost requirement to be completed at the earliest to bring large available areas under cultivation. Research on the irrigation system, sprinkles, and drip irrigation is utmost importance.
•The farmers have to be open-minded and willing to experiment with new technologies and develop a model with a blend of traditional and modern scientific knowledge.
•Farmers should focus on traditional mixed cropping practice so as to reduce the rate of dependency on PDS.
•There is an urgent need on part of the government to help with irrigation schemes to bring more land under cultivation.
•Agriculture research should be based locally, to demonstrate economic and ecological benefits based on best management practices, so that it is relevant and has a local history of use and can be field tested locally for the farmers to see the environment and economic benefits first hand for adoption.
•Farmers should discuss among themselves and brainstorm on the challenges with regard to agriculture for articulating their needs and expectations from government programs. They should demand that the planning for the programs & schemes have to be based on their needs and requirement instead of a top-down approach.