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DDG ICAR on SKUAST-K visit to reviews World Bank-funded NAHEP

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DDG ICAR on SKUAST-K visit

BK Media

Srinagar, June 9: Deputy Director General (DDG) of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi, Dr Rakesh Chandra Agrawal reviewed the institutional development plan (IDP) of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural University of Sciences and Technology of Kashmir under the World Bank-ICAR funded National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP) and presided over a series of functions here at Shalimar campus on Thursday.

Dr Agrawal, who is also the National Director of NAHEP, is on a three-day visit to SKUAST-K to assess the progress of the prestigious Rs 30-crore project awarded to the farm university in July 2019.

The DDG, while addressing the review meeting on early Thursday morning, complimented SKUAST-K for being one of the top performers under the NAHEP. He said among 64 farm universities and institutes, SKUAST-K is doing remarkably well under the project, and both ICAR and World Bank monitoring and evaluation teams have given excellent reviews and have rated the SKUAST-K performance as outstanding.

While talking about the implementation of NEP-2020 in agricultural universities, Dr Agrawal said now the focus should be on own revenue generation so that these institutions can become self-reliant by 2035 as required by the policy. He said SKUAST-K has a lot of opportunities to create its revenue model from various entrepreneurial ventures and services it can provide.

While appreciating SKUAST-K’s proactive role in sending its faculty and students for overseas trainings and exposure trips, Dr Agrawal said, to become a global university, SKUAST-K must now work on bringing international students to the university and organise international programmes. During the meeting, he also interacted with the SKUAST-K students, who are on a visit to Kansas State University, USA. He said this kind of exposure helps making students future leaders and provides them with the confidence to overcome various challenges while building their careers.

The DDG stressed providing an eco-system to students so that after leaving the university they won’t be dependent on government jobs rather open their own entrepreneurial ventures.

Vice Chancellor, SKUAST-K, Prof Nazir Ahmad Ganai, while briefing the DDG about the progress of SKUAST-K under NAHEP said that the place the university has made for itself among the top farm institutions of the country is only because of the ICAR support and NAHEP. The changes that have happened in the university and the milestones achieved are because of the NAHEP. He said the university is conducting every day an event, training or workshop under the NAHEP.

Prof Ganai said earlier that students in the university would attend classes, complete the degree and go home to wait for a job but due to exposure and skills they got because of the project have changed their mindset. Now they are thinking of themselves as the solution providers. He said that SKUAST-K has to become the agent of change to work for making the J&K farm led bio-economy of the country. He said the project has also inspired us to set the goal of becoming the first innovation-led farm university in the country.

Director Education, Prof MN Khan presented a vote of thanks. OSD to Vice Chancellor, Prof Azmat Alam Khan gave a detailed overview of the NAHEP activities carried out in the university and the impact of these activities in terms of output and outcomes. He said that the university has already four private limited companies and a number of startups are in the process of registration. All the deans, directors HODs, faculty members and students attended the meeting.

DDG ICAR on SKUAST-K visit

On the occasion, the IDP newsletter ‘Agrucation’ and some other publications of the university were also released by the DDG ICAR.

After the review meeting, Dr Agrawal visited the startup exhibition and interacted with the startup founders about their ventures. The startup founders, innovators and faculty members, who went for overseas fellowships under NAHEP, presented their ideas and outcomes. outcomes and ideas

Later, Dr Agrawal inaugurated Vice Chancellor’s Sports Festival. A cultural programme by the students under Dean Students Welfare was also presented.

For the next two days, Dr Agrawal will be visiting the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Faculty of Forestry, where he will visit NAHEP created facilities, attend various functions and interact with students.

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Udhampur youth makes saffron cultivation possible in uncultivable terrain

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Inspiration

Malik Nisar

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At a time when people in Kashmir are losing interest in saffron farming, an Udhampur youth has won many accolades for making profitable cultivation of the world’s costliest spice in parched lands of this mountainous district.

Born in a family of farmers in Mir village of Panchari area of Udhampur district, Angrez Singh became the household name for his hard work and dedication not only in his village but to the whole union territory of Jammu and Kashmir for successfully growing saffron in his fields despite the high temperature in the district.

“I have put in a lot of efforts and hard work as growing saffron in the first place was not an easy job that too in a place like Udhampur,” Singh said.

“Youths should cultivate saffron in their abandoned fields. One can earn his livelihood decently.”

Saffron is cultivated in regions that are about 1500-2800 meters above sea level, where there is snowfall in winters. September to October is the right time for planting saffron tubers. The quality and price of saffron are determined by its colour, taste, and aroma.

Udhampur youth saffron cultivation

Angrez has been into saffron cultivation for the last many years with limited resources available in the area. The Mir village where Angrez grows saffron is located at an altitude of 1761m above mean sea level and is almost 40 km interior of Udhampur’s main town with very limited connectivity.

“Climate of Panchari is very cold. Saffron needs one thousand chilling hours (minus seven degrees temperature) in a year. I planted saffron bulbs in Mir village of Panchari, which is getting a good yield for three years. Its seed (bulb) will be prepared after the completion of four years,” said Singh.

Angrez Singh started saffron cultivation in 2018 under the NMHS project on his land in the far-flung area of Udhampur district with limited resources available in his area.

“Angrez showed a lot of dedication from the very beginning of the project and without his dedication, it was not possible to grow saffron at the place where Angrez lives because it’s a far-flung area with limited resources available. Angrez Singh is the role model for the young generation and youths interested in farming should follow Angrez,” said Dr Amjad M Husaini Principal Investigator NHMS project at SKUAST-K.

Angrez Singh has also been receiving inputs and guidance from the project staff “A Value Chain of Saffron in New Areas of NW Himalayas by Engaging youth and Women for Strengthening a Bio-Based Green Economy” on regular basis and has been growing saffron successfully.

“Without the support and direction of Dr Amjad M Husaini things would not have been possible for me,” said Angrez Singh.

Besides, Kashmir’s Pampore, the crop is at present grown in the Kishtwar district of Jammu and Kashmir and the annual production stands at seven tones. The demand for saffron is much more than the annual production of saffron in India. Most of the saffron is being imported from Iran to meet domestic demand. Iran is the world’s leading producer of saffron, with 300 tons produced each year followed by Spain and India.

“Farmers can earn good profit by adopting this model in climatic areas like that of Panchari,” said Angrez Singh, who has also worked on floriculture and mushroom cultivation in Panchari earlier, which has benefited many farmers.

Angrez Singh won the best farmer award at the two-day international conference on “Saffron and Seed Spices-Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Development” held at SKUAST-K Shalimar campus in the early spring. The conference provided a multi-disciplinary forum for scientists across the globe particularly in India, Iran, Spain, Morocco, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan.

 In the inaugural session, a few publications related to saffron cultivation and practices were released, among which “saffron cultivation in Kitchen Gardens” by Dr Husaini is of special interest to the common people who wish to cultivate the crop in their kitchen gardens for domestic use thereby boosting the immunity of children.

“We have similar results in the village Gandhari, Ramban where another progressive farmer Rehmatullah Rounyal got the best saffron award last year in 2020 from the district administration,” said Amjad Husaini, “more farmers like them should come forward so that we can expand this prestigious crop in suitable non-traditional areas”.

Angrez Singh is extremely proud of his achievements and wants to cultivate more saffron in the coming future because saffron has given him “fame, recognition, and money”.

“I want to excel in this field because it gave me everything,” he concludes.

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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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