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The extra mustard crop has supplemented the income of farmers

Mustard brightens up the fields of Kashmir farmers

Jehangir Rashid, Srinagar

Published: Jun. 13, 2024
Updated: Jun. 28, 2024

MILES of yellow mustard fields dot the picturesque landscape of Jammu and Kashmir, indicating the increasing success of oilseed cultivation in the state. 

Through meticulous planning and strategic intervention, the National Oilseeds Mission is transforming agricultural practices in the region. By incentivizing farmers to shift to cultivation of oilseeds during the rabi season, it is increasing farmer income and making the state self-sufficient in edible oils. 

In 2020-21 oilseeds were sown on 40,000 hectares in Kashmir. By 2023-24, land under oilseed cultivation increased to 140,000 hectares. You can see mustard growing in every district of Kashmir but more so in Srinagar, Tangmarg, Anantnag and Pulwama. 

Oilseeds production has registered a staggering increase of over 250 percent. This increase has transformed local livelihoods, fostered economic growth and reduced dependency on imports.

“Our fields would remain barren during winter. There was no activity whatsoever. We were motivated by the Department of Agriculture to go in for oilseed production. I decided to give it a go. I am happy to say I have increased my income after taking up oilseed production,” said Mohammad Shaban, a farmer of Pampore.

Mustard is sown in October. Flowering takes place in March and harvesting in May. After that farmers plant paddy saplings. The extra mustard crop has supplemented the income of farmers.

The success of oilseed cultivation is due to the implementation of the Holistic Agriculture Development Programme (HADP) launched in 2020-21 by the Department of Agriculture.  The programme was implemented following feedback from farmers. Three oilseeds are being promoted — sesame, rapeseed and mustard.

“The outcomes are profound. Production of over 133,000 tons of oilseeds last season has yielded 44,000 tons of edible oils. This indicates a monumental leap towards self-reliance. With the value of edible oils estimated at over `770 crore, we are not just cultivating crops, we are nurturing a future of prosperity,” says Chaudhary Mohammad Iqbal, director, agriculture, Kashmir.

Chaudhary said that before 2021-22 there was a big deficit in edible oils. The state’s consumption was 98,550 tons but availability was just 36,000 tons. “We had to cater to a population of 85 lakh and a floating population of five lakh tourists. The situation has been turned on its head since 2021-22,” he says.

It is mustard oil that farmers and consumers are showing interest in since the oil is integral to Kashmiri cuisine. “In Kashmir, mustard oil is a superhero. It plays multiple roles in many recipes, especially our traditional Wazwan recipes. Mustard oil is used as a marinade for meat. It is used to create delicious gravies or tadkas that are poured over various Wazwan dishes just before they are served. It is, in fact, the main ingredient that gives the ancient Wazwan recipes their characteristic taste,” says Mehraj-ud-din, a chef locally known as a Waza.

Mehraj says mustard oil is a natural and superior cooking oil that retains its nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants right through the lengthy Wazwan cooking process. A vegetarian preparation with collards or haak simply cannot be called authentic unless it is made with mustard oil, he explains.

Edible oils are being grown on fallow land, farming wastelands and by increasing crop intensity. Subsidized seeds, fertilizers, access to micro-irrigation and borewells have been part of the plan. 

HADP’s work in boosting oilseed cultivation has had other spin-offs. “Production and productivity through the oilseeds mission has helped us enhance coverage of bee-keeping in the valley. We have an average of three colonies per hectare. We are now producing 6,000 quintals of honey valued at `42 lakh. We have also increased production of other crops like apple (19.43 percent), cumin (40 percent), sunflower (43 percent) and so on,” said Iqbal Chaudhury.

Under HADP, 29 programmes are being carried out by the Department of Agriculture and its allied departments. The Department has on its own taken up 17 programmes.

The agricultural sector has the character of a decentralized industry, or a cottage industry, and therefore does not require any huge capital expenditure. 

The research and development aspect of the programme is being looked after by the agriculture universities of Kashmir and Jammu. Other activities include mushroom cultivation, bee-keeping, fisheries and farming aromatic plants. All these are being promoted and supported by HADP.

“Farmers of J&K are redefining the possibilities of oilseed cultivation. They have taken to modern techniques without hesitation and they are also using traditional practices. Agriculture here is now a harmonious blend of innovation and heritage,” said Iqbal Chaudhary.

There is, today, an abundant yield of high-quality oilseeds, thanks to local farmers.

“Despite being the fifth-largest producer of oilseeds globally, India’s quest for self-reliance has faced challenges, leading to significant imports of vegetable oils. But change is on the horizon,” said Chaudhary.

With its diverse climate and vast cultivable area, Jammu and Kashmir is poised to become a powerhouse in oilseed production, claim officials.

“This isn’t just a government initiative; it’s a collective endeavour. We call upon farmers, stakeholders and communities to join hands in this historic mission. Together, we can turn the golden fields of mustard into symbols of resilience and abundance. Let us sow the seeds of prosperity, nurture them with dedication and reap the harvest of a self-reliant nation,” said Chaudhary.  


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