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Persimmon Cultivation: A cash crop to explore in J&K

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Persimmon Cultivation in J&K

For the past many years, Jammu and Kashmir has put a lot of focus on fruit cultivation. However, the experts believe that all the eggs should not be put in a single basket and there is a need to look beyond apple cultivation. The diversification in various cash crops must become the norm for the orchardists. Naveed Hamid writes about the possibilities and opportunities of persimmon cultivation in J&K. 

Persimmon Cultivation in J&KPersimmon – locally known as Amlok or Japani Phal – is a fruit that is native to China, whereas wild species found in the Western Himalaya (D. lotus) is a Caucasian native that was introduced by Europeans in 1921 in the Kullu valley of Himachal Pradesh and is now cultivated in Himachal Pradesh, Kashmir, and parts of Tamil Nadu.

It is a monoecious tree that grows to a height of 5-15 metres. The trees are deciduous, and their dormancy lasts until mid-February. Dormant trees can withstand temperatures as low as -150 degrees Celsius. Fruit maturation is more difficult for non-astringent cultivars than for astringent cultivars. Flowering begins in mid-March and lasts until the second fortnight of April. Flat-globose, conical globose fruits ripen in September-October and are orange, reddish-orange, and orangish-red in colour. The flesh is orange in colour and has a fibrous pulpy texture. In the case of astringent types, the fruits are sweet when completely ripened, whereas non-astringent types can be eaten raw like an apple. At room temperature, non-astringent types have a storage life of roughly 15-20 days compared to astringent ones.

Cultural practices

Persimmon thrives in well-drained light soils with decent subsoil including some clay and a pH range of 5.8 to 6.5, and may be cultivated in a wide range of subtropical and sub temperate climates. It can be reproduced by grafting or budding onto wild persimmon rootstocks. Tall cultivars are planted in autumn in well-prepared trenches at a distance of 6 x 6 m.

Persimmon as a fruit of Business for farmers

Persimmon Cultivation in J&KThe best places to cultivate Persimmon are those where apples can be cultivated.

The tree starts bearing fruits in 4-5 years and has an average production by the end of 10 years. The same time is required for the cultivation of apples too. Persimmon tolerates high winters and harsh weather. While some of the areas in Kashmir have limitations of weather, Persimmon is one of the few fruits which can counter this problem.

Economics of Persimmon fruit

Most farmers cultivating apples already know the decline in the price of apples in the country. In Himachal Pradesh alone Solan, Hamirpur, Sirmour, Kullu, Mandi,  Kangra districts have approximately 3000 Tonnes per year in the production of Persimmon.

The fruit, though costs Rs 150-300 during off-seasons have a nominal price of Rs 100 per kilo in retail during seasons. Though the price in Delhi and Mumbai are high for apples, the actual price farmers get is a lot less than what we buy for. Persimmon, due to its demand and lack of availability, commands a much higher price. A price of Rs 120 is nominal for good quality persimmon when obtained from a farmer.

Rootstock Startup Business Opportunity

Persimmon is started from seed or the Indian persimmon plant is the rootstock used for best results for starting persimmon trees in India. The rootstocks are either budded or grafted when the rootstock is ready. Chip budding is done in August and grafting is done in April. Mother plants that need to be grafted should be selected with care.

Pests are minimal in persimmon and the most common problems include thrips, whitefly and mites.

Fruit Harvesting

From the first fruit setting to maturity, it takes two and a half months. Harvest is done when the fruits are tender and ripe, often reddish in colour. Fruits that are not soft will usually be astringent and not suitable for consumption. Some non-astringent varieties are excellent even when not completely ripe. The fruits are very soft and can be scooped off with a spoon when fully ripe. They are chalky in texture when they are not ripe and the non-astringent varieties, though consumable, do not develop the desired taste unless tender.

The fruits have a good shelf life of up to two months if stored in a temperature between 0-2 degrees Celsius. They can also be dried in shade with proper ventilation. Traditionally, the persimmon fruit is stringed by the pedicel and hung in a well-ventilated room until the water content is removed.

Benefits of Persimmon

The persimmon is a fruit that comes from certain trees in the genus Diospyros. Like the tomato, it is technically a berry but rarely considered one.

Persimmons are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, support the immune system and protect against heart disease.

  • Persimmons are also high in soluble dietary fibre, which slows the digestion of carbohydrates, preventing spikes in blood sugar.
  • Persimmons can help keep arteries clear and reduce the risk of heart disease. Atherosclerosis refers to the hardening and narrowing of arteries, and one study found persimmons rich in dietary fibre, antioxidants, and minerals that are part of an antiatherosclerosis diet.
  • Its tannin-rich fibre has proven particularly effective in treating high cholesterol.
  • Persimmons can help in keeping eyes healthy. In addition, persimmon peel is rich in lutein, which is known to help protect against eye disease.

Diabetes Prevention and Reduced Risk of Complications

The peel of persimmon contains flavonoids that have proven to have antidiabetic and antioxidant properties. They protect against the formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), harmful compounds that form when protein or fat combines with sugar in the blood. AGEs have been linked to both the onset of diabetes and to long-term health complications resulting from the disease.

Agri-Startup Business Opportunity

Agriculture is the world’s oldest economic sector, and it provides a primary source of income for roughly 58 percent of India’s population. Things began to change in India when the startup age began. Startups have surely contributed to the agricultural sector’s growth and transformation.

Agriculture has become a source of distraction, with agri-startups offering solutions to assist farmers in the J&K in enhancing their productivity and living. Agricultural development in Jammu and Kashmir is critical for raising agricultural-dependent people’s incomes and expanding the non-agricultural economy. With about 60% of rural Indian households relying on agriculture, India holds the record for the world’s second-largest agricultural land, presenting an enormous opportunity for agricultural startups.

This fruit will be an alternate crop for farmers of Jammu and Kashmir to tap on for their higher return and effectively shift in their farming system.

Young Budding Agripreneurs can grab the opportunity of creating a system for growing a new fruit crop in Jammu and Kashmir by using various agribusiness models. It will provide new business opportunities in establishing rootstock units and Primary Processing Units to fetch the high return out of this farming.

Naveed Hamid is BDA at Innovation & Entrepreneurship Cell, SKUAST-Kashmir. You can reach him at [email protected] 

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AgriBiz

Editorial | Modernise Horticulture 

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Modernise Horticulture 

The turbulent political situation in Jammu and Kashmir for about the past three decades has marred its economic development. From being a self-sufficient state in its economic needs once, J&K has now reached a situation where it always has to be dependent on the central funds.

More than 50% of its expenditures are met from the aid and grants provided by New Delhi. Besides, J&K each year raises hundreds of crores in the form of debt. It is becoming extremely difficult for the government to pay back the interest on this debt, not to talk of the debt itself.

The political situation created vested interests and inefficient governments always had something to blame to keep away from prioritising the economic and other developmental needs of the people. An economically weak J&K suited these vested interests, the planning and policies they made never had been for reaping the available resources of the UT. Rather, certain sectors, which are totally dependent and interlinked to external forces, were given priority over the sectors, which have been time tested in J&K and are mostly weathered to external conditions.

J&K in general and Kashmir, in particular, has been an agrarian economy for centuries. And the available natural resources in the state are fertile land, forests and an abundance of water added to temperate climatic conditions, which makes it one of the best-suited places for agriculture, horticulture and other related occupations in the world.

Though the majority of the people here are associated with this profession but the mode of their operations is still primitive with negligible use of technology. Despite that, it is the main contributor to the economy. According to recently issued government figures, yearly export returns from the fruits are about Rs 10,000 crore which is only next to government salaries. Kashmir valley supplies more than 70% of the total consumption of apples in India. But a Kashmir apple fetches only half of what a Himachal Apple gets. J&K has not enough post-harvest infrastructure available and processing of the fruits is happening at a very limited level.

There is no horticulture policy in the state like we have a policy for tourism. Neither there has been any bigger provision in the state budget for the horticulture industry, except for a few tax concessions and schemes introduced in recent years.

Some of the schemes introduced by the government, like high-density plantations look very promising and the results it has shown so far are encouraging. Similarly, the government has roped in some outside investments like that of NAFED for developing high-density orchards and creating infrastructure like cold storage. These tie-ups are very important and will provide the much-needed capital for modernising the horticulture sector in UT. But some farmers have shown scepticism saying that these same are being planned in such a way that will benefit the middlemen and businessmen rather than the farmers.

The UT administration must make sure that all the schemes are formulated in a way that their first priority must be to benefit the poor farmers instead of creating a class of middlemen.

No doubt the horticulture industry needs modern post-harvest technology, processing infrastructure and new marketing strategies. This is only possible if UT makes the sector a priority and there is a long-term policy for it, which particularly revolves around the farmers. Modernising horticulture is the only way to bring economic self-reliance to Jammu and Kashmir.

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At growers’ fingertips | SKUAST-K incubated tech startup revolutionising horticulture in Kashmir

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At growers' fingertips

Malik Nisar 

With an aim to make weather advisory, expert help, and irrigation management available to apple growers at their fingertips, data scientist and computational biologist Bahsarat Ahmad Bhat has come up with an artificial intelligence-driven support system for precision farming.

Apple Doc, the mobile application developed by Basharat, provides real-time information and expert help on the timing of irrigation, use of fertilisers and pesticides on the basis of soil testing, weather advisory and other required information on both Android and iOS platforms.

“The app empowers farmers to make the right decisions like what kind of farming approach to take based on the type of soil, what kind of chemicals fertilizer to use or avoid when to go for pesticides, and how to prepare for bad weather,” says Basharat, who has a postdoc in data science from the University of Otago, New Zealand. 

“This will help orchardists increase the apple production and cut the costs, particularly those incurred due to unnecessary pesticide sprays and mismanagement. The app is designed to include a slew of features for apple orchardists on all aspects of plant health and disease diagnosis, plant nutrition and orchard management.”

Instead of settling for a ‘good job’ in New Zealand, which provides many opportunities, in 2020, Basharat decided to come back to Kashmir to work on his idea to provide support to Kashmir’s orchardists. 

“I started working on this app in 2019 when an untimely rain affected more than 50% of the total apple production in Kashmir. I was in New Zealand at the time and decided to come back to develop a weather-based solution, which can provide information to farmers in real-time to avoid any kind of loss in apple production”

—  Basharat Ahmad Bhat, founder and developer, Apple Doc

“The idea behind this app was to bring some innovative steps and advancement in farming in Kashmir. From the last few years, farmers suffered a huge loss due to vagaries of weather and substandard pesticides, which spoil almost 50% of apple production,” says Basharat, while elaborating on the reason behind his idea.

“I started working on this app in 2019 when an untimely rain affected more than 50% of the total apple production in Kashmir. I was in New Zealand at the time and decided to come back to develop a weather-based solution, which can provide information to farmers in real-time to avoid any kind of loss in apple production,” he said.

Back in Kashmir while working as a research scientist at Sher-e- Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology of Kashmir (SKAUST-K), Basharat shared his idea with some faculty members, who not only honed his idea but also helped him to apply for the Government of India’s biotechnology startup grant. 

For his innovative idea of AppleDc, Basharat received Rs 50 lakh funding from Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council under Biotechnology Ignition Grant (BIRAC BIG) scheme. Apple Doc startup is incubated by SKIIE Centre at SKUAST-K. 

Launched on March 7, 2022, at the event of the SKUAST-K technology exhibition and farm mela, Apple Doc is connected with satellite data. It provides orchard-specific data and tells a grower when to spry fertilizers and pesticides based on the weather of the area. It also directs him about the irrigation depending on the moisture requirement of an orchard. 

At growers' fingertips

The app’s weather advisory is based on satellite inputs and has very good accuracy. In addition to this, the app has roped in soil scientists, experts from Entomology, fruit science, pathology, and Agricultural methodology so that the best help can be provided. For the remote areas, it has connected with experts from district level Krishi Vigyan Kendra.

“I along with my team have tirelessly worked on Apple Doc to make it more successful although the app is very much new in the market, I am sure it will provide relief to the farming community of Kashmir. In this short period of time, the feedback from users is very much positive and I hope it will be more positive with each passing day,” says Bashrat.

“Apple Doc has helped us in many ways like what kind of pesticide should we use at what time and what kind of nutrients are beneficial for our soil, and many more things. We also fix the appointment with the agriculture experts and discuss our problem with them, then they provide solutions to those problems”

  —  Suhaib Shakeel, an orchardist from the Tral area of Pulwama

Inside Apple Doc App

Apple Doc is an Artificial intelligence-driven decision support system for precision apple farming. The App is available in the Google Play Store for all Android phones and the App Store for iOS phone users with a simple login interface to ensure ease of operation for farmers. A user just needs to enter the basic details to log in.

It provides customized and orchard specific advisories (Real-Time and Reliable) to apple orchardists on all aspects of plant health and disease diagnosis, plant nutrition, and apple orchard management.

Another useful feature of the App is that it provides Weather-based and orchard-specific advisories and also connects farmers with the experts through chat, Video calls and in-person visits.

Through this App, farmers can access local weather, and get good agricultural advice on the best quality sprays and best farming practices.

It also connects farmers with input suppliers, government schemes and banks for subsidies and schemes.

“The features of the application are well researched and well planned by our team. We went to almost every district of Kashmir. We did the survey; we chose a hundred farmers from each district and brought all the information. The goal was to provide a sustainable solution to the problems faced by the farmers in their farming over the years,” said Bashrat.

Testimonies

“Apple Doc has helped us in many ways like what kind of pesticide should we use at what time and what kind of nutrients are beneficial for our soil, and many more things. We also fix the appointment with the agriculture experts and discuss our problem with them, then they provide solutions to those problems,” said Suhaib Shakeel, an orchardist from the Tral area of Pulwama, who came to know about this app in a passenger vehicle during his travel to Srinagar.

“This App has provided much relief to us orchardists,” says Dr Rayees Rasool, an orchardist and Veterinary Doctor by profession from Chandpora village of Bijbehara in Anantnag district. “We are doing everything by following the advisory from the app and it has benefitted us a lot. We apply fertilizers and spray pesticides by taking advice from the experts through this app. Last year our apples got a lot of damage due to erratic weather and wrong spraying, but this year we are hopeful for better production due to Apple Doc,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir union territories’ economy is predominately agriculture dependent and nearly 70% of the population is directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture and allied occupations.

“Kashmir predominately being the agricultural land needs such kind of advancement in the sector to reap a good harvest and earn a decent amount of income. In the coming times we are planning to bring precision spraying using drone technology and more,” he concluded.

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Hailstorm damages orchards, vegetable crops in Tangmarg

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Hailstorm damages orchards vegetables
Tangmarg: Heavy winds accompanied by hailstorms wreaked havoc in various parts of the Tangmarg area of district Baramulla on Wednesday evening damaging orchards, vegetables and other standing crops.
Hailstorms lashed a number of Tangmarg villages including Chandil, Wanigam Buderkoot, Darhama, Kulhama, Tumberhama, Shrai, Check Treran, Druroo, Chandiloora, Ferozpora, Mahayaan, Dardpora Dev Pora, Check Frastreshi, Ganiwani, Kokerdejji, Chann Check, Zandpal, Manchikhod and its adjoining villages causing heavy damage to apple orchards and other crops, villagers said.
The residents said the hailstorm has severely damaged the crops causing losses worth lakhs to the farmers.
“The hailstorm has badly damaged the crops and hit the lone source of income of people in these villages,” said Sajad Ah Teli, a resident of Chandiloora.
Meanwhile affected farmers and apple growers have demanded compensation for the losses and requested the Lieutenant Governor for a quick assessment of the damaged products.
Farmers said lack of crop insurance leaves them in the lurch in times of natural calamities, be it hailstorm on standing crops or untimely snow.

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