Srinagar, Nov 9: The saffron bowl, which was so far confined to Kashmir, may soon expand to the North East of India. Plants from seeds transported from Kashmir to Sikkim and acclimatized there are now flowering in Yangyang in the Southern part of the North-East state.
Saffron production has long been restricted to a limited geographical area in the Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Pampore region, in India, commonly known as Saffron bowl of Kashmir, is the main contributor to saffron production, followed by Budgam, Srinagar, and Kishtiwar districts. Saffron has traditionally been associated with the famous Kashmiri cuisine. It’s its medicinal values were considered as part of the rich cultural heritage of Kashmir. As saffron growing was confined to very specific areas in Kashmir, its production remained limited. Though the National Mission on Saffron focused on several measures to improve its farming, the measures were still limited to the specified areas of Kashmir.
North East Centre For Technology Application and Reach (NECTAR), an autonomous body under the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India supported a pilot project to explore the feasibility of growing saffron in North East region of India, with the same quality and higher quantity.
The Botany and Horticulture department of Sikkim Central University carried out tests to understand the soil and actual pH conditions of Yangyang of Sikkim and found it comparable to saffron growing places of Kashmir. Saffron seed/corms were purchased and air transported from Kashmir to Yangyang site by the department. One saffron grower was engaged and stationed to look after the complete growing process, along with the faculty of the university.
The corms were irrigated during the month of September and October, which ensured timely corm sprouting and good flower yields. The matching of climatic and geographical conditions between Pampore (Kashmir) and Yangyang (Sikkim) led to the successful sample farming of Saffron in Yangyang.
The project also focused on post-harvest management and value addition of saffron so that quality saffron drying and efficient post-harvest processing can improve saffron recovery, thereby improving its production.
Further, detailed analysis and testing of all parameters, including soil testing, quality, quantity, and possible value addition are planned, for immediate results and extrapolation of the project to other parts of the North East Region along with Micro Food Enterprises.
Chemical Pesticides and Environment Sustainability
Need for alternative pest control methods, organic farming
Raheeba Tun Nisa
Chemical pesticides are frequently used to protect plants, animals, livestock, and crops from pests and diseases. In India, estimated annual production losses due to pests are as high as US$ 36 billion. The use of pesticides has significantly increased and improved global food production.
Pesticides are used by farmers, consumers, and businesses to stop the spread of disease and crop destruction. In order to safeguard the world’s food supply, pesticides assist the agricultural community in managing exotic weeds, diseases, and insects.
All types of pesticides used in the country, including those imported from other nations, are governed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States. When seeking to market their products, pesticide manufacturers must comply with extremely strict regulations set forth by the EPA. The amount of pesticide residue reported on food products ingested by humans or animals, such as livestock feed, is regulated by the EPA.
However, there is still a flaw in the system that causes environmental chaos, and we are unable to stop the devastation of our ecosystem.
Impact of pesticides on environment and SDG goals
Pesticides however might have a negative effect on both aquatic and terrestrial species. Their extended and repeated use causes bioaccumulation. It is possible for pesticides to spread from the application site to distant surroundings and non-target creatures. Even at low concentrations, water contaminated with pesticides poses a major threat to the environment. Pesticide residues can reach humans through contaminated food and water, non-target drift, or application.
Exposure to pesticides can have a variety of negative neurological health impacts, including impaired coordination, memory, and vision. The immune system is also harmed by prolonged pesticide exposure. An increase in neurological conditions, including brain tumours, has been attributed to excessive pesticide use in Kashmir.
Different soil microorganisms are necessary for various plant functions yet using pesticides may limit the soil microflora. We know a lot of beneficial microorganisms are present on the plant surface (Phyllosphere) as well as in the root zone (rhizosphere), indiscriminate use of pesticide drastically decrease their population.
Numerous herbicides have been shown to be harmful to mycorrhizal fungi, increase plant susceptibility to diseases, impair seed quality, and have indirect effects on bird populations. SDG target by 2020 is to minimize the negative effects on human health and the environment by achieving the environmentally sound management of chemicals and their wastes throughout their life cycles, in compliance with accepted international frameworks, and greatly reducing their release to air, water, and soil.
Pesticides must be used in accordance with the standards established by national and international law, with better safety precautions and less harmful formulations. Farmers should be made aware of the need to avoid using harmful pesticides.
Strategies to minimize the usage of chemicals
In the future, it will be possible to combine the use of chemical pesticides with natural remedies to eradicate pests and insects in a more long-lasting manner. The best alternatives to pesticides are agronomical approaches, biological control, organic farming, integrated pest management, and the use of resistant varieties.
Current disease management approaches rely primarily on synthetic pesticides, but growing awareness of these chemicals’ detrimental effects on the environment and human health has prompted us to seek out more effective, less or non-toxic alternatives.
One such alternative is biological control of plant diseases that could be a viable alternative to expensive chemical fungitoxicants, which not only harm the environment but also allow for the development of resistant pathogenic strains. The biocontrol agents either soil-derived or epiphytes or endophytes (bioagents acquired from phyllosphere) are having the innate potential of suppressing the diseases.
It may be effective to use endophytes and epiphytes that are strongly antagonistic to this pathogen to tackle the disease. In the future, biological control on aerial plant surfaces will be successful not only because of its efficiency but also because of its low cost compared to traditional pesticides and the absence of harmful side effects from the organisms used, such as mammalian toxicity.
Other advantages of biological control over chemical control might include the less long-term environmental impact from the use of persistent pesticides and the lack of chemical residues on edible components of the crop. Several commercial microorganism-based products have been created and are beginning to gain popularity in the market. However, due to biocontrol action’s diversity and inconsistency, large-scale usage is still limited. In some circumstances, this might be due to the biocontrol agents’ susceptibility to environmental impacts.
There are several ways to overcome biocontrol limitations and increase its performance. One such way is a combination of biocontrol agents with fungicides. Compatibility of any bioagent with fungicides is a key to developing an efficient disease management module vis-à-vis disease control, resistance management, environmental safety and economy.
Need to boost and promote natural farming startups
From 2010-2011, the organic market in India witnessed considerable growth. According to a TechSci Research report, ‘India Organic Food Market By Product Type, Competition Forecast and Opportunities, 2011 – 2021’, India’s organic food market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of over 25% during 2016-2021. With the rising environmental and health problems, more and more people are becoming cautious of the harmful effects of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and other artificial chemicals used for food production. There is growing consensus among people about the benefits of using Organic products. This unique rise in demand has resulted in creating an opportunity for many to come up with great and novel ideas in the shape of startups with unique business models, aimed at solving this modern-day crisis.
The authors are associated with SKUAST-K, Shalimar
Age-old practice of grape cultivation in Kashmir needs revival
Grape cultivation in Kashmir! Harud, the harvesting season of Kashmir starts from mid-September to mid-November. During this period people are busy cutting paddy, picking fruits, unearthing underground veggies, etc. These days people harvest grapes to keep a share and give away the rest to neighbours, relatives and friends. You should know this except for a few areas of Kashmir grapes are not grown for commercial purposes.
The soil and climate have always been suitable for the progress of horticulture in Kashmir. Viticulture or winegrowing is the cultivation and harvesting of grapes. In old days Kashmir was known for its luscious grapes. Grapes – Dach in Kashmiri, is a highly nutritious fleshy fruit with numerous health benefits. It grows in bunches.
Throughout Kashmir’s history, the ruling dynasties and monarchs from time to time took interest in the cultivation of grapes. But today it has entered the dark phase of history. Neither the government nor the people take serious note to revive this age-old practice. The grape plant is found almost in the home garden of every household in Kashmir still, people don’t pay attention to cultivating it extensively.
The vale of vineyards
The majority of historians agree with the fact that Kashmir produced many varieties of fruit in abundance from the ages. The kings, nobles, merchants and religious saints together planted every kind of tree whether fruit-bearing or shady tree to promote the garden culture of Kashmir. Fruit cultivation especially grape cultivation in Kashmir has been practised since ancient times. We have a glimpse of the aristocratic asrama life of the Saiva gurus standing on a mandapa with a goblet full of wine in the middle of the vineyard (MA Wani, Islam in Kashmir). Many nobles had their fruit gardens. Raja Amar Singh and Diwan Amar Nath during the Dogra period maintained their vineyards.
Kalhana writes, Grapes”which were scarce even in heaven were common in Kashmir”. There is a reference to grape, grapevine, and vineyards in many ancient chronicles of Kashmir. While Kalhana’s Rajatarangini mentions ‘The town of Martanda (present-day Matan) was swelling with grapes during king Lalitadityas time’, Huen Tsang who visited Kashmir in the seventh century CE makes it clear that Kashmir produced abundant fruits and flowers (Samuel Beal, Si- Yu- Ki). The 11th-century Kashmiri poet Bilhana while praising the beauties of his homeland in his poetic verses mentioned growing of grapes in abundance in Kashmir.
One side of it yields saffron,
lovely by nature,
the other grapes, pale as the sweet cane
that grows alongside the Sarayu
(Bilhaṇa, Vikramāṅkadevacarita; trans. Whitney Cox)
Fruit formed a regular article of diet. Among the principal fruits that were eaten during medieval times pears, cherries, plums, apricots, grapes, apples, and peaches were found in abundance. An excerpt from the book- Kashmir Under The Sultans, “Fruits were grown in such abundance that they were rarely bought or sold. The owner of a garden and the man who had no garden were all alike, for the gardens had no walls, and no one was prevented from picking the fruits.” This claim is supported by medieval records like Tarikh-e- Rushdi and Tarikh-e-Firishta. Different kinds of drinks were made from fresh fruits among them Sharbat Angoor was quite famous. The grapes were also used in making jams (murabbha).
Grapes were cultivated all over Kashmir, and vineyards were found at every nook and corner of the valley. The vines were allowed to grow on the poplars and mulberry trees (Mutamad Khan, Iqbal Nama Jahangiri). Since the local grapes were not of superior quality, Akbar introduced new varieties like Sahibi, Kishmishi, etc. (Jahangir, Tuzuk-i- Jahangiri). Bagh-e-Dilawar Khan was a famous site for vine culture and there were more than 18 varieties raised in this orchard (Moorcraft & Trebeck, Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Ladakh and Kashmir). Superior varieties were cultivated in Lar and Repora (Hassan Shah, Tarikh-i- Kashmir).
While Abul Fazl praises some fruits and considered them better than the tropical fruits of the plains of India he held an adverse opinion about grapes. He said, “though grapes were in plenty, finer qualities were rare”. This view is supported by Bernier when he says “with the introduction of better grafts from foreign countries and by paying more attention to planting and soil, the Kashmir fruit would attain the same degree of perfection as the French”.
The quality of indigenous grapes was improved side by side. In 1590 CE Muhammad Quli Ifshar, the Daroga of the gardens, first of all, grafted Kashmir fruit trees with peaches brought from Kabul. The experiment succeeded and grafting has since then been widely practised. Zafar Khan Ahsan the governor under Shah Jahan also improved the quality and taste of the cherry, plum, peach, and grapes by using better grafts and planting imported saplings from Persia and Kabul (PNK Bamzai, Culture and Political History of Kashmir, Vol 2).
During the Sikh and Dogra periods, thousands of acres were covered with vines in full bearing. Moorcraft proclaimed, “There are said to be eighteen or twenty varieties of grapes in Kashmir of which four were of foreign introduction. These are the Sahibi, of an oblong shape and red colour; the Maska, round and yellowish-white; the Hoseini, of the same colour but long; and the Kishmish, yellowish-white or green, round and seedless; this last is small but the other three are large, the Sahibi sometimes measuring four inches in its largest circumference. They are all thin-skinned, and grow in considerable bunches; those of the Maska is not infrequently of the weight of five or six pounds. The Sahibi and Maska are both fine table- grapes; wine and raisins might be made from the other two. These sorts are usually cultivated on high horizontal trellises of wood. The indigenous vines are generally planted at the foot of poplar and run up to the height of fifty or sixty feet, bearing an abundance of fruit. The grapes are commonly thick-skinned and rather rough and astringent, but juicy”. There are six varieties of grapes mentioned in ‘A Gazetteer of Kashmir’ by CE Bates which was published in 1873.
Grapes in market
The difficulty of terrain and transportation discouraged fruit growers from exporting grapes from Kashmir. Besides, the fast perishing nature of pulpy fruits that lost their taste and texture within weeks of harvest did not attract the merchant class. These delicate fruits were too fragile to be transported from one place to another. Due to the long journey, they used to spoil before reaching the market. However, with the modern modes of transport laden with CAS (Controlled Atmospheric Storage) and better connectivity this all can change now.
We don’t have enough sources to know about the export of fruits from Kashmir. But a few references are there to make us believe that grapes were exported from the beginning though not on large scale but in limited quantities. Abul Fazl in his work Ain-i-Akbari mentions that “Kashmiris bring grapes on their backs in long baskets.” Though not a primary article of trade fresh fruits and dried raisins in limited quantities were included in the export list (Jahangir, Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri). It means both grapes and dried raisins were in demand in mainland India during Mughal Period.
Niccolo Munucci an Italian traveller mentions large quantities of vegetables and fruit were exported to the Indian market. During the 17th century, the fruit merchants reached as far as south India with the fruits (Kalimatu Taibat, Ed. Inayatullah Khan). Grapes used to sell at 108 dams a maund in Mughal times (Abul Falz, Ain-e-Akbari).
Sind Valley: The heaven of delicious grapes
Sind valley in past as well as in the present day is known for its finest grapes. Walter R. Lawrence in his famous book The Valley Of Kashmir mentioned a few vineyards at the mouth of the Sind valley. He has also praised the white and red grapes of the state vineyard at Raipur during Dogra Period in Kashmir. Thakur Janak Singh the military commander had built a bungalow there known as Bungli Bagh which is now in ruins. This is the present-day Repora village located in Lar block in central Kashmir’s district Ganderbal- The grape town of Kashmir. For many centuries now Sind valley is known for its fresh delicious and quality grapes.
From vine to wine
Grapes were particularly valued as a fruit and were also used in brewing wine. Drinking wine seems to have been quite popular since the ancient period. The wine and grapes in Kashmir were local products. The tantric ritual required the use of liquor, hence as a prestigious item of consumption, Kashmir preserved its wine culture. Kalhana says, “both men and women were addicted to drinking”. The wine, cooled and perfumed with flowers, was appreciated as a delicious drink. It is written in Nilmatpurana that wine has been recommended, especially on ceremonial occasions.
There are many references which show that making and drinking wine was not prohibited during the Sultanate period, even though it was strongly disapproved by large section of the society. Most of the Sultans and their nobles imbibed liquor regularly (Jonaraja, Dvitiya Rajatarangini). Zainul Abidin took it in moderation, but Haider Shah was a confirmed drunkard and, as a result, neglected his state duties. Hasan Shah was in the habit of arranging drinking parties in his palace or in the boats on the Jehlum, and used to get drunk on these occasions (Srivara, Jaina Rajatarangini).
Locally the liquor was called ‘mas’ (Jahangir, Tuzuk-i- Jahangiri). Soft liquor of various types was used by all (Mohammad Sadiq Kumbu, Amal-i-Salih). It was distilled from grapes, barley, rice and mulberries (Mutamad Khan, Iqbal Nama Jahangiri). On festive occasions, there was free consumption of liquor by the participants. Anguri and Qandi were the cherished drinks of singers (Nath Pandith, Gulshan-i- Dastur). But there appears to have been a substantial decrease in liquor consumption during the later half of the 17th century (Majid Mattoo, Kashmir Under The Mughals).
Although the Islamization of Kashmir took many centuries, this tradition gradually discontinued among people but was kept alive by the ruling class. For a short period, Afghans stopped making wine but the tradition was later restarted by the Sikhs Rulers.
The consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Sikhism, but drinking culture is often associated with Punjabi culture. Moorcraft writes: “After harvesting grapes in October, they were kept in shallow earthen vessels till spring, then they were applied to the fabrication of wine, vinegar and brandy. The manufacture is ill-conducted, and the liquor is kept in bottles, which are stopped only with plugs of wood, twisted bark, or paper. No wonder therefore that the beverage is indifferent, but such as it is, it is sufficiently good to show that, with proper treatment and care, the wines of Kashmir might be made to rival many of those of Europe.”
Dogra Rulers took great interest by investing large amounts to boost this industry. On the shore of Dal Lake, Dogra rulers occupied 389 acres of land for vine cultivation. The vines were introduced from the Bordeaux district (the famed wine-growing region in France) in Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s time. To make as good as Medoc and Barsac varieties of wine high-priced distillery plant was imported and set up at Gupkar on Dal Lake. Two Italians, named Signor Benvenuti and Signor Bassi, were employed to look after vineyards and wine factories (Walter R. Lawrence, The valley of Kashmir).
Why there is a need to revive grape cultivation in Kashmir
Kashmir has great potential to evolve as a booming grape cultivation hub. It is high time to reintroduce this crop for some good reasons:
First, The growth of horticulture with the revival of grape cultivation in Kashmir will immensely contribute to J&K’s economy.
Second, it will play its role to absorb a large number of unemployed youth thus reducing the unemployment rate which is at an all-time high in the state.
Third, if introduced in economically backward districts of Kashmir it will help poverty-stricken to uplift their life.
Forth, If the vale of Kashmir once again became a centre of viticulture then entrepreneurship in this field will surely flourish. The bumper crop will attract investors to apply new ideas with the latest techniques.
A poet and writer, the author has done his MA in History from the University of Kashmir and MPhil from Punjabi University, Patiala. Presently, he is a freelance columnist. You can contact him at [email protected]
Insight into Kashmir’s walnut harvesting
Text by Syed Jesarat
Pictures by Suliman Saith
Process of storage: During the final stage, walnuts are stored for further use. Walnuts are used in many dishes and cosmetics.
Walnut is one of the key produces of Jammu and Kashmir which provides livelihood to thousands of families. About 2.66 lakh metric tonnes of walnuts are produced on 89,000 hectares of land in Jammu and Kashmir, the highest in the states and UTs in the country. Overall production is 2.47 tonnes per hectare, and J&K has been designated an Agri-Export Zone for walnuts because of its high productivity. As a result, Kashmir is the largest walnut supplier in India.
Walnut growing in Kashmir has enormous potential for development as an industry because of the variety of walnuts present in Kashmir, their health benefits, and their usage in food.
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