Srinagar: The Jammu & Kashmir administration has begun an outreach programme to encourage farmers of the Valley to cultivate exotic vegetables and herbs such as broccoli, lettuce, celery and parsley to make farming more profitable.
The union territory administration is looking to import seeds from Holland and Spain, which have expertise in cultivating the crops, and distribute them among local farmers at a “reasonable price”, said J&K agriculture department director Altaf Ajaz Andrabi.
As things stand, J&K farmers primarily cultivate vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower, which are cousins of broccoli, besides potatoes, beans and peas. The crop is consumed locally as well as sent to other parts of India.
Only about 100 hectares of the 40,000 hectares under vegetable cultivation in Kashmir currently cater to exotic crops such as broccoli, lettuce, parsley and celery, which have been growing popular in urban diets.
Trying to strike a balance
The agriculture department is holding consultations with farmers to raise awareness about non-traditional vegetables and the prospect of greater profits.
“Let us take the example of cauliflower, which has a massive consumption in India, and broccoli, which is still gaining ground in the country,” said Andrabi. “Cauliflower is known as the poor man’s vegetable while broccoli is seen as a rich man’s vegetable in India. So why can’t a farmer cultivate both?” he added.
“A farmer who is selling cauliflower at Rs 10/kg (farm-gate price, what a farmer earns on each kg) could sell broccoli for Rs 150/kg.”
Most of these exotic crops require cold weather, which places Kashmir farmers at an advantage to tap the growing demand.
Officials in the J&K administration said the authorities wished to increase land use for unconventional crops by five to six times, to at least 500-600 hectares.
Care is being taken, they added, that the shift doesn’t disturb the cultivation of the Valley’s major crops like cabbage, cauliflower and potatoes.
“It is not that farmers are being told to cater to only those consumers who can afford expensive vegetables,” said Andrabi. “Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has a population of 22 crore and a large chunk of Kashmiri vegetables travels to UP too. It is an extremely important market for us but we also need to explore other markets and increase our potential.”
Bashir Ahmed, a trader at Parimpora, Kashmir’s largest fruit and vegetable mandi, said the plan to increase production of broccoli was a good initiative. However, he added that it would only succeed if the farmers are provided with enough facilities and infrastructure.
“The vegetable produce of Kashmir has been phenomenal. Even today, we send 30-50 trucks of vegetables that carry nine tonnes of vegetables each,” said Ahmed. “But the costs incurred in transportation, labour and other logistics can affect the farmers’ share. In that case, if more profitable vegetables are cultivated, it will be good for the farmer.”