Mountain Agriculture in Gilgit-Baltistan-I (Published in The Nation dated August 10, 2002)
Verily, nature has been bounteous in the G-B. Its munificence becomes evident from the phenomena all across this region – be it the gigantic water towers giving a lease of life to the dwellers of the plains in the south, skyscraping peaks attracting the world tourists and climbers – abundant mineral wealth ranging from precious and semi-precious stones to the finest quality of gold. Its azure lakes, rivulets – what and what not that enrapture those who find a chance to have a bird’s eye view.
To state precisely, the region has the history, been attracting explorers, tourists of all hues – climbers, trekkers, and those fond of hiking in mountainous regions. These amazing natural phenomena together, constitute a stupendous mountain ecosystem, beyond any exaggeration.
To top them all is the astounding potential of its soil that according to latest researches, offer immense prospects of ‘mountain agriculture’ that is likely to bring about an amazing socio-economic transformation. This comes amid certain quaint views long held that Gilgit-Baltistan offered scant prospects in terms of agricultural economy because of aridity as well as scarcity of land.
True that per capita landholding here remains at the lowest ebb compared to the plains on the south offering vast acreage but nonetheless, the latest experimentation has scientifically proved that the land available for what may be called the ‘mountain farming here’, has all the characteristics of offering a substantial yield both in terms fruits and agricultural produce, that is of far more significance viewed in comparison with those of the plains.
This primarily got buttressed during the course of successful experimentation of potato in Gilgit-Baltistan which has, over the preceding one decade, yielded stunning results.
What is noteworthy is its pest-free characteristics for supplying as seed to the farmers in the country as a successfully substitution for a huge quantity being imported from abroad by incurring a colossal amount in foreign exchange.
It has come to the fore that potato cultivation is now gaining momentum in the uplands from 9000 ft and above, because of the rising demand for its pest-freeness in addition to the unique taste and opulence.
This has underscored giving a boost to its cultivation all across the region.
It is to be reiterated that supremely distinctive attributes of this soil are conducive to cultivation aimed at producing many other such pest-free crops to cater to the requirements besides benefiting the respective communities of the region with a view to sustain the agricultural economy by giving a scientific orientation to it.
Although efforts remain underway for weaning and motivating the respective communities, on to maximizing the potato cultivation practices with a complete departure from the traditional cropping, great strivings are nonetheless, required to be geared towards achieving maximal potato-cultivation. What is simultaneously needed is popularizing ‘mountain farming’ technology on subsidized rates to help the mountain communities mechanize the agriculture quite untrammeled.
The ongoing rigidity of rules and regulations concerning loaning in this region need to be revisited to make them mutatis mutandis applicable in that no such farmer could face any difficulty in seeking agricultural loans.
It is noteworthy that the yardstick of loaning by the Agricultural Development Bank of Pakistan (ADBP) operative here remains the same as in vogue in the rest of the country which in essence, does not conform to the ground realities here. This, therefore, appears to be quite a imprudent step to equate the land here with that of the plains.
For instance, the minimum land hypothecation needed for a tractor is put around forty kanals which is wholly unjust. Instead, it is required to be brought down to twenty kanals to enable the mountain farmers have a free access to such loaning facility in an unhindered manner.
Again referring to the potato cultivation, it is pertinent to point out that it has by the time, assumed the status of ‘cash crop’ in this region with an average farmer earning around one lac per annum provided an unhindered marketing takes place. Potato cultivation preliminarily got popularized in ‘Upper Hunza Valley’ about a decade and a half ago.
The tangible results that were achievable led the populace of the other tracts to follow the suit. Thus a departure from the traditional or to put it, the primitive cropping here ensued.
Consequently, its cultivation today is gaining popularity in all tracts like Bagrote, Haramosh, Astore, Ghizar, Diamir and the whole of Baltistan. The construction of three majestic tourists’ roads across Gilgit-Baltistan – materialization of which reportedly remains underway – would certainly broaden accessibility to various parts of the region and to the market as well.
This is in view of the fact that the Karakoram Highway (KKH) has enabled the farmers of remote localities as far as Gojal in Upper Hunza Valley, to market their agricultural produce and generate income as afore-said quite untrammeled.
It has transpired that potato cultivation though traditionally being undertaken in low-lying areas here is found not to be that much pest-free besides having no match to the produce of the uplands in terms of its mass.
It is not as luscious as that of the uplands either. As regards the research work going on here, there exists a ‘Tissue Culture and Green House’ in close proximity to the government post-graduate college, Gilgit or to put it aptly, beside the Karakoram International University (KIU).
This centre reportedly remains always swamped with its intensive research activities aimed at giving a veritable boost to ‘mountain farming’.
It would not in any way, be hyperbolic to say that its location too, becomes immensely advantageous in that the Karakoram International University in close contiguity is likely to start going into its maiden academic session shortly afterwards. The vice chancellor of the university is said to be a renowned agricultural scientist.
According to the statistics pertaining to the year 2001-2002, potato produce during the year touched 670 ton which as compared to the preceding year, noticeably multiplied. The income generated by the activity is put around a stupendous one billion and a half vis a vis that 1999 barely recording twenty eight lac. Recounting the magical characteristics of the soil here in terms of potato cultivation, the researcher here have a unanimity of view that Gilgit-Baltistan alone has the potential of producing singularly pest-free potato in the world for seeding.
It is further believed that a switch-over from the primitive to the modern ‘mountain farming’ techniques would redouble the produce and as such the income of the respective mountain-dwellers would substantially increase.