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Dry spell set to upset Kashmir agriculture

Irshad Khan

Srinagar Apr 07: Amid advisories for farmers to skip paddy cultivation in view of scanty winter precipitation this year, the Department of Agriculture is bracing for alternate crops on at least 60 percent of the area.
After asking farmers in North and Central Kashmir to grow alternate crops to get away with the imminent drought this summer, the Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC) is likely to issue similar advisories across Kashmir as per officials.
In view of the precipitation shortfall and the advisories, the Department of Agriculture has started arranging seeds “chiefly beans and maize” for “60 percent” of the area under paddy cultivation, Director Agriculture, Altaf Aijaz Andrabi told The Kashmir Monitor.
As per official figures, the 60 percent area, which needs a crop change accounts for 84,600 hectares with the total area under paddy cultivation in the valley being 1,41,000 hectares.
The crop change, Andrabi said, would be required in North and Central Kashmir with South Kashmir to be affected relatively lesser.
”The 60 percent affected area falls in North and Central Kashmir. South Kashmir would not be having that much effect,” Andrabi said.
To arrange the required seeds of the alternate crops, Andrabi said that they have “already forwarded a contingency plan to the government”.
“This is a great challenge. We have to make all the adequate arrangements. Normally, we go for 33 percent seed replacement, but this year there would be an additional burden on the state exchequer,” he added.
The “66 percent less precipitation this winter” as per Andrabi was “obviously a bit of concern”.
“As we have surface irrigation as the only source available, so we are wholly dependent on the glacial waters. We don’t have any other source,” he said.
The crop change as per Andrabi was necessary as “75 percent population is exclusively dependent on agricultural operations. There has to be an alternative for them, so that they are not put to economic deprivation.”
Andrabi however emphasised, “We need to keep trust in the almighty. We have seen it (less precipitation) three times in the past, but the produce dramatically increased at times. Let us have that element in our mind first”.
“Nevertheless, we have to be in a state of readiness.”
Chief Engineer I&FC, Shahnawaz Mir said that the water level in the Jhelum and other streams had come down due to the lesser winter precipitation.
“At Sangam, against a normal 6 feet water level, the gauge reading is just 1.2 to 1.4 feet. Same is the case at Asham, Ram Munshi Bagh and other streams. The level has reduced to 1/5th to 1/6th than normal,” Mir said.
The discharge in the water bodies, Mir said, was “66 percent less as compared to the discharge in 2012.”
The farmers should “definitely” skip paddy cultivation this year and plant alternate crops, Mir advised.
“We have issued advisories in this regard. We would be issuing them for South Kashmir as well,” he added.
Executive Engineer, Irrigation Division Ompora Budgam, Mohammad Haneef said that the water level in the major streams in the district was “exceptionally low” due to the lesser winter precipitation.
The water in the Yusmarg dam as per Haneef had shrunk to “just one fourth”.
“It would not suffice for the whole season. That’s why we have asked farmers to go for a crop pattern change,” he added.
The Irrigation Division Budgam has already asked farmers in the district to skip paddy cultivation.