Kashmiri youth turning to agriculture for a profitable source of income
Educated youth with postgraduate degrees in Kashmir are finding horticulture, bee-keeping and spice cultivation profitable ventures that not only earns them a livelihood but also generates employment to others.
Mudassir Kuloo and Raouf Dar 10 May 2023 7:06 AM GMT
Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
Faisal Simon is a film-maker turned beekeeper. The 39-year-old resident of Srinagar in Kashmir earned a Masters degree in film production from the United Kingdom and for over 15 years, worked as a director, actor and producer.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed him to try something different and the film-maker now has his own brand called Virgin Himalaya through which he sells organic Himalayan honey. Apart from honey, he also deals in over 30 locally-grown organic products such as almonds, walnuts, apricots, kahwa(saffron tea powder), Himalayan soybean and rajma (kidney beans).
“I returned to Srinagar from Delhi where I was working in 2020 when the pandemic broke out. The weeks of being confined indoors gave me a lot of time to think and I decided to foray into the world of beekeeping,” Simon told Gaon Connection. He earns about Rs 18 lakh from the honey business alone.
Gowhar Jabeen is currently pursuing her Masters in Agriculture Economics from SKUAST-K (Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology Kashmir). But the 24-year-old is also a kiwi farmer. Since 2021, she has been growing kiwis in her village Ashajipora in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.
“Since I am an agriculture student, I know how to grow kiwis. I have been interested in farming since childhood. And, ever since I started growing kiwis on our land, I have been able to provide employment to 10 people,” she told Gaon Connection.
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Like Simon and Jabeen, many young people in Kashmir are turning to farming and agriculture-related activities as they believe there is a huge scope not just to earn money from it, but also generate job opportunities for others. Bee-keeping, spice cultivation and kiwi-farming are just some of the avenues the Kashmiri youth are exploring. Many of them hold degrees in subjects unrelated to agriculture, yet are going into the field with enthusiasm.
Creating a buzz
Film-maker Simon had no knowledge of bees whatsoever. “I bought 100 beehives and learnt about bee- keeping from several experts in Kashmir. I also read books and bought literature on how to breed bees from SKUAST-K,” he said.
Simon now has more than 300 boxes packed with bees, and they produce 500-700 kilogrammes of honey depending upon the weather conditions. He said that stringent quality check standards were maintained.
“I started this business to provide pure honey to customers. Kashmiri honey is considered best in India because the Acacia honey has hilly floral sources that no pesticides or chemicals have touched. We are blessed as Kashmiri honey is considered the best in the world for not just its medicinal properties but for its organic nature,” the founder of Virgin Himalaya said.
“We produce different varieties of honey including the Himalayan Manuka Honey, Wildflower Honey, Acacia Honey, and Saffron Honey. Himalayan Manuka Honey is produced from jungle bees, not bee farms,” he said.
According to him, bee-keeping is challenging because of the cold weather in Kashmir. “By the end of October we shift our bees from Kashmir to Punjab and Rajasthan and return to Kashmir around May. I have hired two skilled workers who take care of my bees while they migrate,” Simon said.
An increasing number of Kashmiri women are venturing into agriculture or offshoots of agriculture. Urfi Jan, a 25-year-old post-graduate from Batagund Verinag in Anantnag district, along with 25 other women has been growing spices and selling them in markets for the past one year.
“We all grow spices on our respective land then bring them to the packaging centre from where we sell them in markets through dealers,” Urfi Jan told Gaon Connection.
“We don’t use any chemicals in our farms, only use poultry manure. Each girl earns Rs 10,000-20,000 per month depending upon how much produce she has grown,” she explained.
“These all products are organic without any adulteration. Our main aim is to provide pure products to customers. Our earnings differ from season to season,” she said.
According to Urfi Jan, in a recent exhibition, the girls sold products worth Rs four lakh in two weeks time. They sell turmeric, chilly, ginger, saunf powder, ghee, honey, rajma, and so on.
Kiwi cultivation in Kashmir
“Agriculture, sericulture and horticulture have a great scope for earning good money. The only thing is they need proper training and marketing strategies,” Junaid Ahmad, a researcher at SKUAST-K, told Gaon Connection. SKUAST-K offers several training capsules the young entrepreneurs can sign up for, and there are various government schemes which they can benefit from, he added.
Jabeen from Ashajipora village said cultivation of Kiwi was the best option since the fruit has a good market in Kashmir and it has great medicinal value too. “I grow Kiwi in one kanal of land (20 kanal = approximately one hectare) then sell them to traders who then supply the fruit to various markets,” she said. She urged other young women to take up farming and become self-reliant.
“Agriculture earns money, and keeps us away from anxiety or depression. Some people are moving away from traditional farming but if proper training is imparted, women can earn well from fruit cultivation,” she said.