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When milk turns sour for Kashmir’s dairy farmers

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Milk Kashmir's dairy farmers

Tajamul Islam Salroo writes about the reasons behind the recession in Kashmir’s otherwise recession-proof dairy sector, and the measures required for tackling it.

The dairy sector is considered a recession-free industry, a cash business with a good rate of return and always in demand. But what has happened this year, the demand for milk and milk products in Kashmir has plummeted to an extent, which was never expected. It is really disturbing to see farmers dumping their produce down the drain for no demand. The question remains if it is because of the rise of COVID19 that this business is showing such a slump or there are some other possible reasons for disturbance in the daily cycle. Being associated with this industry I have made an analysis based on my own observations.

The first and foremost reason for this issue seems to be the sharp rise in both domestic-level as well as commercial-level dairy farms in the last year across the Kashmir valley. We should know that the youth have been attracted towards dairy farming owing to subsidy schemes put in place by the Department of Animal Husbandry to make the UT self-sufficient in milk production. Envisaging it a daily-need, profitable business, people established a considerable number of dairy farms mostly at the commercial scale, with five to 20 cows, not knowing the fact that without proper market analysis or a backup it was going to put them in troubled waters soon. The milk production, as it seems, is surplus this year and that too in the very lean season of milk production while this has, unfortunately, happened for the first time in the history of Kashmir. The whole of the dairy cycle has got disturbed, right from the producer to the consumer because on one hand, the production has tremendously increased by incorporating high yielding cows in the dairy sector while on the other hand, the consumption has got reduced to a certain level. The agitation of dairy farmers is, therefore, obvious because their produce is hardly in demand. Having limited or no options available to sell their produce, dairy farmers feel dejection at all levels.

Milk Kashmir's dairy farmersThe other reason for the dairy business slump in Kashmir is the increased consumption of ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk that comes in Tetra Paks of 100 ML, 200 ML, 500 ML & 1000 ML. A large chunk of the population consumes this type of milk as well owing to its extended shelf life and now all-time availability in nook and corner of the valley.

With the rise of COVID19, milk by-products like Dahi, Paneer, Cheese, Ghee, sweets etc are in the least demand, which has really contributed to the dwindling dairy market. The demand for Dahi, Ghee and Paneer has gone down to an all-time low this season while cheese and sweets have negligible demand, and the most probable reason is COVID19. This fall-off in dairy demand due to the shutdown of tea stalls, hotels, restaurants, and confectioneries have given rise to unprecedented recession in the dairy industry. A survey conducted by the milk processing plants has shown that the milk revenue has plummeted by 30-35% between January 2020 to January 2022. It reveals that every stakeholder is hit by the situation, be it a milk producer, a milk agent, a milk vendor, a milk plant holder, a milk distributor or a milk retailer.

The input costs of milk production have gone high at all levels, and it is hard to pass on the higher costs to consumers due to challenging economic conditions. Thus, undesired anxiety looms over. This is also one of the reasons that smaller businesses have wound up their operations while large ones are struggling. In fact, everyone associated with the milk industry is under stress at present.

The other reason for the dairy business slump in Kashmir is the increased consumption of ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk that comes in Tetra Paks of 100 ML, 200 ML, 500 ML & 1000 ML. A large chunk of the population consumes this type of milk as well owing to its extended shelf life and now all-time availability in nook and corner of the valley. I think the consumption of tetra packed milk has increased to a greater extent over the last couple of years.

Undoubtedly the present dairy times are tough, but it is not permanent, I must tell it to all of my readers based on my experience and expertise in this field. The situation will change. Covid will not last long. People will again switch to dairy products, the consumption of which they have reduced. But the efforts must be made to keep the Dairy Cycle moving always and ever in future. If the government has put in its efforts in making Kashmir self-sufficient in the milk, they must also take proper measures to balance it as well and the only solution is to establish a Milk Powder Plant that is what Milk Balance Cycle actually refers to. The establishment of UHT Plants is another solution to this problem besides the manufacturing of by-products like cheese, ghee, chocolates, dairy-whiteners, flavoured milk, cream etc. The sooner the government takes initiatives in this regard better it is going to be for dairy farmers across the valley, in particular, and the dairy sector, in common.

An MBA, Tajamul Islam Salroo has 15 years of experience working in dairy and other food processing industries. 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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AgriBiz

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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