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Harvesting success: Meet Kashmir’s progressive women farmers

by Atlanta Business Journal

Over the years many female farmers in Kashmir have defied odds and social taboos and created avenues not only for themselves but for others as well and showed that women are capable of matching the success of their male counterparts.

Shameema Bano, a resident of Fakir Gujri area of Srinagar is a successful woman farmer who grows different kinds of vegetables like beans, leafy vegetables, carrots, turnips and other locally preferred vegetablesin her three kanals farm.

Once the harvest season comes, 55-year-old Shameema sells the produce to the local shopkeepers to earn the money. With this money she easily manages her daily family expenses.

She is among many farmers who were trained at Agriculture College of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST- K). 

“It was only after the training that I took part in farming activities. I make my livelihood out of the three kanals of land that i possess,” she said.

Wife of a labour, she is known for her unique farming techniques in her village.A multi-tasking woman Shameema has also trained the village women in arts and handicrafts.

“Now, my daughter also helps me in farming. She handles my farm unit and has also connected 10 more girls in the village who get guidance from my daughter,” she said.

Masrat Kawsar is another successful integrated farmer who started growing different kinds of vegetables in 2017 in two villages of Lalpora and Mahyen in Tangmarg area.

Hailing from Bandipora she started growing vegetables in the area under greenhouses and produces organic and high quality cucumber, bell peppers, hybrid tomatoes etc. in nearly 50 kanals of land. She has named it Gulmarg Valley Farm (GVF).

Today, after years of hard work the farm not only is a source of livelihood for her but also a source of employment for ten other women.

“We have provided free seedling in the area in order to promote kitchen garden concept, so that the people get into the habit of growing healthy food and eat fresh,” she said.

Masarat who also introduced locally made pickle, further said that introducing pickles (Tehi Mixed Pickles), which is made for the locally grown products, is just one small step towards the bigger aim of her cluster.

“As a natural vegetable grower, I just want the people to realise the importance of growing and making products without the use of any synthetic or harmful substances,” she said.

She has been appreciated for her work and felicitated at the national as well as state level. She is an example for other farmers to follow.

“I wanted to empower women who hardly leave their home and need some kind of help. Most of my employees are women and I believe in women empowerment. That is the reason why I choose agriculture as an avenue,” she said.

Her farm unit also gives training to local farmers especially women about how to grow organic vegetables that Masrat grows in her farm.

“Kashmir has a tradition of mandi system but I don’t prefer that. I believe in retail marketing in which fresh vegetables reach directly to consumer within short time,” she said.

Notably, Masrat’s successful farming has made her a Kisan Welfare Board Member. Besides that she is also a board member of SKUAST-K.  

Masrat with his exemplary efforts in scientific farming continues to script success. She has made great difference to agriculture by emerging as a highly successful organic farmer.

She said choosing agripreneurship wasn’t an easy decision as she had not seen any successful farmer in the vicinity be an example or encouragement source.

Another agripreneur Syed Tabasumruns a spice packaging unit and takes the locally grown produce from farmers like chilli and makes quality products out of it.

A resident of Natipora Srinagar, she said before setting up her unit she also took in the training at SKUAST-K which helped and motivated her to start the initiative.

“It was with the help of training at SKUAST that I was able to set up my unit. When I established the unit they also helped in marketing of the products,” she said.

Tabsum said when she started the unit she struggled a lot. However, the 40-year-old woman didn’t lose hope as she continued to chase her goal and worked hard even after facing the loss due to 2014 floods.

Apart from spices she also manufactures eco-friendly bags out of jute for which she gets the materialfrom outside Kashmir. At her unit she provides employment to eight people. “I am very specific about the eco-friendly bags since the polythene causes pollution,” she said.  

She said a successful agripreneur needs to understand consistency, creative thinking, smart working, risk taking, communication, and finding market opportunities.

Tabasum said there is a lot of scope in agriculture adding it is a good choice for the unemployed youth. “My message to youth is that they can also start from their own farms,” she said.

All of these women agripreneurs were trained under the guidance of Dr Raihana Habib Kanth, who is currently Dean of Agriculture College, Wadura of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST- K).

Before becoming the Dean of the college she was engaged in training of farmers especially women as PC KVK Budgam and Srinagar. 

She would spend most of her time visiting farm and orchards and guiding other farmers.  The KVK also had a farm for demonstration of technologies and seed production. 

She was the first to demonstrate the mechanised harvesting of oats. The senior scientist is also instrumental in demonstration of System of Intensification in Rice and Mechanised Rice transplanting technology which she feels should be taken up on large scale and the women too can do the paddy farming also. 

Dr Kanth has touched the lives of hundreds of women by teaching them farming skills. Her contributions to the agrarian society of the Valley are unparalleled. Dr Kanth’s dedication and passion has completely revolutionised the agricultural practices in Kashmir.

In 2005, she got an opportunity, when she was transferred to the Directorate of Extension within the Agriculture Department as a Junior Scientist.

“It was an opportunity to meet farmers and travelling to far-flung areas. As the Extension governs all KVKs, we were in contact with all of them. This experience made me bold, resilient and outspoken,” she said.

She has personally mentored over 100 students of agricultural sciences at the graduate and postgraduate levels. She has guided over 500 women farmers to implement scientific farming practices.

Being the only agrometeorologist in the valley, she was working in the central Govt. sponsored project for providing agro advisories to the farmers on the basis of weather forecast, that way, she was in direct contact with the farmers. In her tenure as Nodal officer GKMS the advisories through SMS services started. 

Continuing her agro-advisory stint, she joined the in-service PhD program and was the first female to complete a doctorate in Agronomy from SKAUST-K in the year 2000.

During this time a pilot project of the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) was launched to formulate farming policies. Scientists had to do Strategic Research and Extension Planning (SREP) in field and visit villages, meet farmers, attend panchayat meetings and understand their agricultural requirements. She did SREP for Ganderbal and Srinagar districts.

In 2012, when Dr Kant was selected as program coordinator of KVK Budgam, people were surprised to see a woman in-charge. “Many were surprised what a woman would do there. Since I had ample experience with KVKs, it was an opportunity to guide farmers, especially women,” she said.

Dr Kanth, who continues to work for the welfare of women farmers said, “We have to break the stereotype. Women can take part in every business. They can also go to the mandis and fight for the cost. We have to break the stereotype.”

Dr Kant believes that once a woman comes out with any kind of initiative it is an opportunity and a guiding force for other women as well.

“We all know women are hard workers as well and do every work with interest. They have shown their mettle in floriculture, apiculture, mushroom farming, bakery, food processing. We should encourage women to come in other aspects of agriculture also. They are the powerful engines of growth. We have to spend on women. When women win we all win,” she said.

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