Science for people

Scientists attending the 101st Science Congress discuss solutions to lift farmers, livestock owners out of poverty

 
By Vibha Varshney
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Scientists attending the 101st Science Congress discuss technology solutions to lift farmers, livestock owners out of poverty

Jammu and Kashmir is one state where science can really make a difference. A high 70 per cent of the population in the northern Indian state depends on agriculture. The mountainous terrain makes life difficult and most people are poor, but at the same time it has resources which could lift people out of poverty.

For example, Ladakh is home to special varieties of apricot and apples. But there is a ban on export of these from the area as these are prone to diseases and could affect cultivation of apple and apricots in other areas. Instead of finding ways to control the disease, people have been stopped from making profits from these novel varieties.

One way of helping people in Kashmir improve their income significantly would be sericulture. Sher-e-Kashmir Univeristy of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKAUST)-Jammu is helping train people on sanitation techniques to improve the environment and silk yield (photos by Vibha Varshney)

Meetings such as the Indian Science Congress being held in Jammu this year could be a platform for finding ways to improve the lot of people in the state. Vice-chancellors and directors of different research organisations in the state got together on day four of the meeting for the Prof Ram Nath Chopra Symposium on science and technology imperatives and opportunities for sustainable development of J&K. Tej Partap, vice-chancellor of Sher-e-Kashmir Univeristy of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKAUST)-Kashmir enumerated the problems in the area. There is a shortage of water in the area, in case of horticulture, the plantations are old and diseased, livestock breeds suitable for the area are not available and there is a shortage of fodder. Of late, new problems such as climate change and land use change are also creating problems.

Some solutions and challenges

Experts gave solutions too. The silk industry in the area is a good example. Silk cultivation came to India from China via Kashmir and the area has centuries of history of producing silk. But most people who maintain silk worms are poor and grow the silkworm only to add another source of income. Cocoons need to be kept at a certain temperature to increase yield but the farmer has no means to maintain temperature. At best, the farmer keeps the cocoons in the kitchen or in the cattle shed. Realising that two factors—regular availability of mulberry leaves and the environment—contribute the most to the quality of silk, researchers tried to find ways to improve this. Ajay Koul, director of research with SKUAST- Jammu said the organisation is providing technical help to people. For example, people are being trained on sanitation techniques to improve the environment and increase yield. To what extent such methods would help the farmer is another matter as the market is controlled by cartels which control the price.

 Technological interventions have also improved vegetable farming in the region. Defence Institute of High Altitude Research in Leh has managed to grow 101 different types of vegetables there compared to just the handful that were grown earlier. Farmers can grow these vegetables round the year using low cost solar green houses

There are others involved in finding suitable technology. Defence Institute of High Altitude Research in Leh has worked towards increasing the number of vegetables that grow in the area. The institute has managed to grow 101 different types of vegetables there compared to just the handful that were grown earlier. The institute even has a place in the Limca book of records for increasing the number of vegetables which the farmers can grow. Farmers can grow the vegetables round the year using low cost solar green houses. Ram Vishwakarma, director of Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM) in Jammu suggested that the perfume industry in the area could be bolstered. He said that the mentha variety that grows in the area yields an oil which is much superior in quality to the one that grows in the plains. The institute is encouraging farmers to grow the variety.

N N Vohra, the governor of the state who chaired the session, too, said that such discourses are of value for those involved in future of the state.

'Go organic'

The question still remains how these solutions can be taken to the people. Partap gave an example. His institute developed rice which is resistant to blast disease. But these have not as yet reached the people as the extension services are not working well. "To rectify the problem, we decided to take the seeds to the farmers ourselves. We got the people involved and there was participatory plant breeding and seed production in the area. We made the people the custodians of the variety," he said.

Partap says that the state should go organic which would mean that everything—crops, vegetables and medicinal plants—would be organic and fetch high price. But he says that the state has been dragging its feet on this subject. There are lobbies which might be behind this inaction.

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