Lot of support needed for little known agriculture in Ladakh

Leh, Feb 7 (ANI): Little is known about Ladakh aside from its magnificent rocky and icy landscape, its drawing pull for tourists across the world and of course its strategic dimension for the country's security.

But really how do the people in this cold desert live, what sustains them and indeed what is it that makes up this region in all its socio-economic dimensions aside from what is portrayed in picture-post cards?

In the more than six decades after Independence, people here like much of the country are still dependent on agriculture; growing crops like barley, wheat, and potatoes based on traditional practices. In addition to this, people across the region grow green leafy vegetables Barley is the all-time favourite but somehow it still does not fetch good sum of money at the market place.

Thus like in large swathes of the country, it is wheat, which is required as the primary foodgrain. Except that given the extreme cold and rocky landscape, it is difficult to grow. It takes time to ripen and is in any case restricted to warmer parts. This constitutes a shortage of grains but it is equally true that the potatoes, green vegetables which add not only variety but also nutritional value to the Ladakhi palette are in short supply too.

Somewhere the present scenario is a reflection of policy level measures which flow from the LAHDC or the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, vested with the powers of devising policy and governance. What seems to be lacking is the priority to this sector, which has been and continues to be the basis of people's lives in the region.

Yes there are moves to boost certain aspects of agriculture like the much-popularised 'greenhouses' for kitchen gardens. This could be a boon for growers of vegetables but unfortunately the promise of this laudable initiative falls short.

Though LAHDC provided subsidies for building these structures, the instructions for its usage and maintenance were vague. The result was poor productivity. What made these lacunae abundantly clear was the contrast with greenhouses built by non-governmental organizations like LEHO or the Ladakh Education and Health Organization.

In yet another programme, this lack of clarity and showed up. Farmers were provided a 'drying machine' on subsidized rates. This would have been a boon particularly for women farmers, who play a prominent role in the growing fruit like apricots.

However, despite the training, farmers were unable to use the technology properly and continued to depend on age-old practices of drying fruits in the sun. Here too, the policy measure, though well planned lacked the rigour in the implementation required to derive the maximum benefit from it.

Somewhere all these add up to one flaw, which is becoming increasingly apparent. The imparting of knowledge, indeed the training of people to understand, adapt to new techniques and pioneer a new movement in improving existing yields is sorely missing.

Departments like the Horticulture, C.A.D (Common Area Department) and Irrigation and of course Agriculture could play a tremendous role in this. Making people more equipped, skilled and knowledgeable with the improved and developed technology is the way forward in Ladakh.

What instead is happening is that measures designed to meet a need of the Ladakhi agricultural community remain half-baked, their promise cut-short by shoddy implementation or perhaps lack of the intuitiveness and 'soft skills' required to transfer this to people.

There are other areas, which need to be strengthened. Take the case of subsidised seeds of green vegetables and sometimes barley provided by the government. Gradually this is reducing the use of seeds grown through traditional methods. This in effect will increase the dependence of these 'ready-made' seeds and the value of the traditional seeds will be snuffed out.

Policies on providing subsidised seeds need to be far-sighted. They need to bolster or augment existing skills and practices of the agricultural community and not destroy them.

Ultimately, all measures in this high-altitude desert which has a fragile and delicately networked eco-system need to focus on building self-reliance within the agricultural community. It cannot be at variance with the core needs and practices as it is increasingly becoming apparent now. In this particular case, it would be socially and economically more appropriate for the government to provide training for growing and saving the seeds.

For agriculture to really gain its full potential and provide the people not only with an adequate means of earning a livelihood but for the region to move towards self-reliance, a concerted effort is needed.

This would need a much greater involvement of the local community because it they who are repositories of knowledge and insights into cultivation in all its dimensions. What is heartening is that there are organizations like the WAL Women's Alliance of Ladakh and LEHO working on such issues.

LEDEG or The Ladakh Ecological Development Group another organization works in collaboration with France-based GERES involved in improving livelihood system in Trans-Himalayan region. Their focus remains in promoting improved greenhouses,'chula' and also housing of local people.

The introduction eco-friendly, solarised buildings that use very minimal biomass and non-renewable energy is the hallmark of the initiative. In an ingenious move, Womens' Alliance brings together people from across the world having knowledge and experience in agricultural practices.

The programme enables them to live and study local practices which leads to a sharing of information and insights. This is timed well and coincides with the harvest time or in summer and is indeed a unique and valuable opportunity to showcase traditional practices, which are greatly appreciated by these foreign participants.

For instance it would not be uncommon to find a discussion on 'dzo', the local name for a mix breed of cow and yak, used for ploughing and 'chutsir', which signifies the traditional irrigation system in villages. Such moves in essence strengthen the fabric of relationships on the land which form the core of agriculture in Ladakh.

It is centered around the concept of cultivation as an activity, a way of life which brings the entire community together which involves the whole family and indeed the neighborhood, singing and enjoying working on the land.

This is a marked contrast to new-age technologies which is more 'impersonal' which distances and divides the people from each other and thus from the fullest potential of their work.

These are the nuances and considerations that the government and indeed those who have a stake in a high-growth and sustainable agriculture in Ladakh should take into account, says Charkha Development Communications. It is a challenging region in every sense of the word. The powers that be should rise to meet that challenge. (ANI)

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