In conversation with Tsering Wangdus, Executive Councillor, Agriculture, LAHDC, Leh

By Kunzang Chosdol LEH, Apr 17, 2018
Tsering Wangdus is working as the Executive Councillor for Agriculture. In October 2015, Tsering Wangdus won as a Councillor from Saspol Constituency in 5th LAHDC, Leh election.
He has also worked in State Road Transport Cooperative from 1972 till 2004. He joined as a Senior Assistant then served as Booking Manager for ten years, Depot Manager for seven years. After working as a Traffic Manager of Leh and Kargil for eight years he got retired in the year 2004.

In 2005, he joined the LUTF party and served as a Councillor, Saspol Constituency from 2006 to 2010. He joined BJP Party and served as the Vice President of the party from the year 2010 to 2015. 

Q. Tell us about the present scenario of agriculture sector in Ladakh.

Earlier, people in Ladakh were totally depended on agriculture for the livelihood but today with the introduction of the tourism industry and army in the region, people got an alternative source of income. Giving up the farming system people are more inclined towards making money easily in other sectors.

But still, 70% of the people are dependent on agriculture in Ladakh. Today we see a large number of the rural population migrating and residing in urban areas in the name of tourism and children’s education. And in the villages grandparents are keeping alive the farming practices. 

From the past many years, Hill Council has been focusing on the education and infrastructure which has improved a lot. Thus, the 5th LAHDC set agriculture as the main priority to make an endeavour to drive back the people from urban to their native rural areas by providing facilities and focus on growing cash crop thereby searching market facilities for them.

Today we have end numbers of crops, vegetables and fruits which were not grown in the past and have enormous potential for the cash crop.

Q. Due to growing tourism sector, people are giving up farming. How important is it to retain and work on it for sustainability of our livelihood?

Agriculture is a practice which has been carried out by our ancestors whereas tourism and its allied sector are newly introduced in Ladakh which does not have sustainability in nature. We cannot say about the continuous influx of tourism in near future. What if there will be a war and turmoil in Ladakh? Tourism is very easy to vanish in the region.  Agriculture is the only sustainable sector which is evergreen for the income generation.

Q. Tell us about the need of market facilities for the local agro products. What role council is playing to enhance it? 

Ladakh has a limited growing season and it becomes difficult to sell and cultivate in the one season. Meanwhile, there are less market facilities for the local farmers. Our main motive is to support the farmers in exporting the fruits and vegetables from Ladakh to other parts of the world.

We are trying to create an external market for the farmer in other region. If we talk about the income generation from agriculture products, the farmers who are nearby the Leh city are earning good from the vegetable and fruit but if we talk about the farmers of the far-flung areas they are not getting any income from their produce. 

From last year, we have started Leh local fruit and vegetable market once in a week in the main market, Leh where local farmers exhibit their local produce. We also started this initiative to create a platform to meet the local farmers with big hotels, guesthouses and restaurant to make deal with them so that both can be benefited.
In rural areas like Sham region, the early practice of double cropping can revive. Buckwheat and mustard is the second crop in the Sham region. Since the price of first crop wheat and barley has no value, they should continue the second crop for the cash. Today, ₹100 per kg is paid for buckwheat whereas wheat and barley are at only ₹14 to ₹15 per kg. In many of the southern region of India, Buckwheat is used in their daily routine food and in many western countries it is considered as a very rich fibre food. So we are focusing on reviving the double cropping in Sham belt.

Another potential crop is the pea, it is one of the important cash crops which can be successfully exported to other region. The good part is that when we have the season of pea production, it is not been grown in any other part of the country. So, we have a very good opportunity to export our peas to Delhi, Chandigarh, Jammu and other parts of J&K.
From the last two year, on a trial basis, we searched the market in areas like Jammu and sold it which was successful. Few youths from Sham region has been working with the export of pea and today we are sending 15 to 16 trucks each year in the season.
There is also a good demand of apricots at the international market and we are focusing on creating awareness among the farmers.

Q. What are the schemes provided for the farmers by the government, and how can we improve the farming system in Ladakh? 
The concerned departments are providing training and workshop to deliver scientific techniques and methods among the farmers. In addition, there are different schemes available to improve the crop production in Ladakh.

One of the most important schemes provided is the seed distribution. The hybrid seeds are distributed on 50% subsidy among the farmers. Machinery equipment is also made available on subsidies. There is also a scheme for the construction of commercial greenhouses and small greenhouses. Some of the greenhouse facilities have been also provided by NGOs to the farmer. Every year the greenhouse polythene is also provided on the need basis and around 1000 polythene sheet is being distributed among the farmers.

If the younger generation takes agriculture as a profession, the farming system in Ladakh will be changed. There is a need to study, research, experiment and explore in this sector. Agriculture is a sustainable job and it should be carried forward.

We also have plans for the construction of cold storage in Leh and to cater fresh fruit and vegetables in nearby villages we are planning to start a vehicle which has fridge facilities.

Q. Tell us about the advantages and disadvantages of climate change in the agriculture sector in Ladakh?

There are both advantages and disadvantages of the climate change in terms of agriculture production. Due to temperature rise, even the far-flung areas of Changthang are cultivating crops and vegetables which were not grown earlier.
Looking behind 30 years back, we used to grow a limited number of vegetables, fruits and crops. But today we can grow end number of fruits and vegetables which are grown in other parts of the country. The sham region of Ladakh is experiencing and exploring new vegetables and fruits.

On the other hand, there are disadvantages due to rise in temperatures like pest attacks like aphid and black moth has created lots of destruction to the orchards in many areas of Ladakh. Meanwhile, we receive less snowfall in winter and the rapid melting of glaciers leads to water scarcity for irrigation in the farming season. Heavy and untimely rainfall in the summer is also an issue.

We are focusing to promote every area of the Leh district as per their potential in production. For eg. Areas like Saspol to Dha Hanu of the sham region have good potential of orchard trees and similarly, other areas will be also focused as per their potential.

Q. Hill Council has been stressing about making Ladakh organic. What are the steps taken to accomplish this dream? Do we have possibilities to become a complete organic region?

Yes, we have a good chance of making Ladakh a pure organic region. We see that 60% of farmers are already using compost manure produced from their livestock in their field whereas, the remaining 40% needs to be replaced with the organic manure.
I think we can do it because Ladakh is such a place where most of the people in rural areas rear domestic animals and livestock which further helps in good yield from the fields because of the use of organic manure. The fertilizers are mostly used in the urban areas where people keep less numbers of domestic animals.
The use of fertilizer has to be minimized in an organised manner. From the last two years, we have minimized the order of fertilizers. Last year we brought about 7000 quintals of fertilizers and each year we replace it with the supply of vermicompost among the farmers.

However, from the last two year, an initiative has been done to bring manure of livestock from Changthang through Cooperative to Leh. The manure cost ₹120 per 50kg sack which are distributed among the farmers.

With an aim to make farmers aware about the effective farming practice and use of manure for the crops, staffs of the concerned departments visit each and every village of the region to impart training and awareness about how to compost leftover fruits, vegetables, leaves and much more in the village itself.

Apart from that we also bring the selected farmers for a visit at DIHAR and SKUAST- K to practically see the work and experiments of the scientists to grow the products effectively using different techniques and methods.

Q. Tell us about the production and cultivation of fruit in Ladakh. Do the production of fruits and vegetables increasing with the change in climate over the year?

Around 2600 quintals of apricot, 3500 quintals of apples and 8000 quintals of vegetables are produced in Leh district annually. There are many new explored vegetables and fruits that are grown in many villages, particularly in Dha Hanu region.

Climate change along with the negative impact is a good thing for the production and exploration of new fruits and vegetables in Ladakh. Due to climate change and global warming, the Himalayan region like Ladakh is experiencing and cultivating fruits and vegetables which were not grown earlier.

At present pear, strawberry, watermelon, grapes, apples, apricot, walnut and others are grown but still, we are exploring more with the help of study and research from many experts in such fields.

Apricot is one of the best fruit which is exported. In the past, the price of apricot varies from ₹250 per kg. Due to lack of drying technology and facilities, people used to dry it everywhere which leads to degrading the taste due to dust. But today due to the introduction of new technology for drying fruits which were provided by NGOs in Ladakh the value of it goes up to ₹600 per kg.

Raktse karpo is one of the sweetest apricots in the world which is grown in Ladakh but people are neglecting and focusing more on Phating. To focus more on the production of Raktse Karpo and exporting it, we are focusing on improving the Raktse Karpo orchard and plan to adopt one village in the name of Raktse Karpo production.

Q. How important is to make value addition and marketing of the local fruits and vegetables produced in Ladakh?  How much scope and potential do we have and what more can be explored?

Value addition and marketing is very important and we have potential to do so. The younger generation should work on the value addition and marketing of local fruits and products which will be very successful. Ladakh is situated in a unique climatic condition remains cut off from the rest in the winter months. In summer, various vegetables and fruits are grown and if we make value addition to all those vegetables and fruits by canning, packaging and drying it will work wonder in winter months.

At Thiksay, Rambirpur we have planted peas on a trial basis, and plan to train farmer about the potential of packaging and canning of peas which we can use in winter. There is a good potential of apricot and berry, we are focusing on making fruit jams and dry it for commercial purposes. Likewise, there are many ways and methods to explore in this field.

Q. Since we see a shortage of water in the farming season everywhere, what can be the alternative solution to overcome these problems? Can the system like sprinkles and drip irrigation be adopted for agriculture and horticulture in Ladakh?

Since every farmer has an enough of experience in farming, now we are focusing more on providing exposure to them. I have asked DIHAR and SKUAST-K for providing guidance and practical training on how to overcome the shortage of water for irrigation, they told about the mulching and its effective result.

From last year, the farmer has adopted the mulching technique. Phey is a model village for mulching and drip irrigation since the village is facing water scarcity during the farming season.

However, there are different techniques such as drip irrigation, sprinkles and many more which also proves effective in Ladakh. On trial basis we have planted vegetables at Thiksey, Rambirpur (Dropping ground) using the drip irrigation and sprinkle technique which was grown successfully even the place is dry and sandy.

Q. In the past year, lower belts of Ladakh were affected by the outbreak of Browntail moth infestation. What steps did you take to stop it and avoid spreading in other regions?

Yes, since from the last three years, huge damage has been caused by pest infestation to fruit trees in Sham and Turtuk belt last year. If we estimate the cost of the apricot production from Dha Hanu, Sham belt and Turtuk, annually ₹14 crore is being generated. But from the last three years, only ₹3 to 4 crores has been made from it due to the destruction of pest attack.

In 2016, with the support funds from MP, concern councillors and Horticulture Department, Leh we have used the spray to kill pest and the yield was good as compared to the past year.

Q. What are your plans and initiative taken to develop agriculture sector?

Our main focus is to make Leh an organic district by 2022 and we have taken every step to accomplish this dream by introducing organic manure and minimizing the use of fertilizers in the region.

Another initiative is stressing on adopting the cash crop. We are focusing on making our younger generation to take interest in this field so that the agriculture system of Ladakh can be sustained by exploring more new crops thereby generating more employment as well as income for livelihood.

We have been bringing the local farmers to visit experimental research field of DIHAR and SKUAST-K and organise workshops and training about the different techniques and methods uses under these organisation to yield good crops.

Exposure tour to farmers at the experimental field of SKUAST-K and DIHAR institute is an important part. Many farmers are reluctant to adopt new techniques and method in their field so to make them understand the benefit and importance we let them visit the Model village Phey where the same farmer use techniques learnt from the institutions. This enables farmers to learn and understand practically and with the ground result, it helps and pushes them to adopt.

Message to the readers 

“Agriculture is a traditional practice and is sustainable in nature. Today we are growing varieties of new crops and fruits growing in the region as compared to the past. To sustain the practice, the younger generation should focus on it by using modern techniques and method to yield a good crop. More study and research need to be done.  We are focusing on making Ladakh an organic region; people’s support is must to accomplish this dream.”