Q. You aspire to become an agro-entrepreneur. Brief us about yourself and how farming interests you?
Farming has always been a part of my life since I was a child. I grew up playing in the fields and had an opportunity to discover what agriculture is. I pursued Bsc in agricultural sciences from Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology, Jammu. As agriculture student, when we talk about a sustainable job I can picture only ‘agriculture’, as I believe people and animals will never stop consuming food. And I always wanted to devote my life to something which is sustainable and the agriculture sector is the one which is both economically and environmentally sustainable. Thus, I choose to become a ‘farmer/ agro-entrepreneur’.
Q. Tell us about your initiative of growing Quinoa plant. How important and advantageous is the plant for the region?
It was in 2015 when my cousin asked me about the plant Quinoa and I was embarrassed to admit that I am not aware of it despite being an agriculture student. Out of curiosity, I started to explore and learn about it. I researched the plant during the initial days and decided to carry out a field trial in Ladakh, to check whether it’s feasible or not? I realized that this magical crop has immense unexplored potential and is well suited for Ladakh’s topography and climate. And this is how the plant Quinoa or Chenopodium quinoa became one of the finest and most satisfying experiences of my life.
Quinoa is rich in proteins, fibres, vitamins and minerals, and low on carbohydrates. It is ideal to add more nutrients to our diet along with traditional crops such as wheat, barley, and buckwheat, which have high carbohydrate content. The leafy portions of the plant are rich in iron, which helps prevent anaemia and is an important aspect to treat diseases like scurvy. A soup made from the seeds is known to help prevent tuberculosis. We can use quinoa as a substitute for high carbohydrate crops such as wheat and rice. Quinoa has been globally recognized in the fitness and health sectors for its nutritional properties especially its high protein, fibre, and ash content with comparatively less carbohydrates. This makes it ideal for weight-loss and muscle gain.
In Ladakh, we can use quinoa as a substitute for rice and oatmeal. Quinoa also blends well with healthy bread. Similarly, it can also be added to the soup to increase its nutritional value. The green leaves of the plant can be served as a nutritional salad. Quinoa seeds can also be mixed in local Ladakhi Kulchas (cookies) to make it even more delicious and nutritious. In summers, it can also be added to smoothies to create new tastes and flavours. In addition, farmers can use the other by-products from the plant as fodder for their livestock.
Q. What do you believe is the biggest challenge that farmers of Ladakh are facing today?
The old traditional method of farming was sustainable as there was no use of chemicals such as fertilizer and pesticide which includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, molluscicides, and rodenticides. With time, we are witnessing a change in the agriculture method and it’s disheartening to see the presence of such toxic chemicals in our soil.
I believe that ‘Soil is a living system, with billions of soil organisms weaving an intricate soil food web to create, maintain, and renew soil fertility’. People of this generation see soil as a dead matter, an empty container for pouring synthetic fertilizer. As said by Sir Albert Howard, the ‘father’ of modern sustainable farming, ‘an infertile soil, that is, one lacking sufficient microbial, fungus, and other life will pass on some form of deficiency to the plant, and such plant, in turn, will pass on some form of deficiency to animals and man’.
Pesticide is non-specific, as only 1% is sprayed on target, rest remains into our ecosystem. Bacteria and earthworms do not survive after the application of chemical fertilizer. Fertilizer blocks the soil capillaries, which supply nutrients and water to plants, which ultimately leads to a reduction in productivity in terms of both yield and nutrition. Lack of awareness is the biggest challenge.
Q. What are the scopes in the agriculture sector and how is it to engage young educated youths in this sector?
There is a misconception that people choose farming only because they are illiterate and many youths see the agriculture sector outdated, unprofitable, and require a lot of hard work. We don’t have to limit our-self to only ‘farming’ when we discuss agriculture sector, there is much more than this, like marketing, transportation, agriculture-clinics, agriculture consultancy, supply of different seeds and other inputs, processing, and packaging units, and many more.
The image of agriculture sector needs to be improved to engage educated youth in this sector. Primary and high school education could include modules on farming, from growing to marketing crops. This could help young people to see agriculture as a potential career. Also, innovative financing for agriculture and small businesses is needed. For example, the provision of soft loans to youth who come up with innovative proposals in agriculture or micro-franchising.
Q. What plans and initiatives are needed for sustainable development in Ladakh?
For sustainable development, the adoption of a traditional agriculture system or the organic method is a must. Diversify farming systems, which makes greater use of the biological and genetic potential of plant and animal species. The system will also help in recycling nutrients, by using plants that fix their own nitrogen and helps in achieving a balance between pests and predators, which will reduce reliance on the pesticide. Development of agroforestry is also necessary, which not only helps to maintain soil fertility but to earn more.
Message to the readers
“Synthetic chemicals do not feed us, but the soil, the water, the sun, the seed, and the farmers do'”