Dr. Vikas Gupta, Scientist (Senior Scale) Plant protection, KVK, Leh: Agriculture is the backbone of the district economy as it engaged over 70% of the working force mostly as cultivators, agricultural labourers and livestock rearers. We have immense scope in agriculture in Ladakh because we are still dependent on other parts of the country to feed our local population, tourists, army troop etc. Availability of land is not an issue but the major challenges faced are the irrigation system.
Agri-Horti. and Agri-Pastoral are the farming systems in the region and Monocropping is practised in the district whereas; double cropping is undertaken in some parts of Sham belt and Nubra valley. Wheat and barley are the major crops cultivated in the district. Also, we have an immense scope of vegetable production in Ladakh. With the development of technology, the vegetable season is now extended and various new vegetables are started growing in the region.
Most of the farming community in Leh is uneducated and most of them have followed the traditional system of agriculture. Although KVK-Leh, Kargil and Nyoma, research institutes like HMMARI SKUAST-K, DIHAR, CAZRI, State departments are trying their best to educate the farmers about the scientific cultivation of crops and disseminates the technology from lab to land through several awareness programmes.
Plant diseases and control
In Ladakh, the common diseases in plants are rust in wheat and barley, loose smut in wheat and barley, fungal and bacterial wilt in Solanaceous vegetables (Brinjal, Tomato, Chilly, Capsicum and Potato), early blight in potato and tomato and powdery mildew in Grapes are generally found.
Plants are not absolutely safe in nature because of their susceptibility to various biotic factors like insect and diseases.
Insects and weeds affect the field crop every year. However, depending on weather conditions, the severity is very variable from year to year and very often control strategies are applied without considering this variability. With increasing concerns about production costs, food safety, and protection of the environment, appropriate timing of management is required.
Variety of chemicals and bio-chemicals are available that have been manufactured to control plant diseases by inhibiting the growth of or by killing the disease-causing pathogens. Pesticides and bio-pesticides used to control bacteria known as bactericides and bio-bactericides used to control fungi known as fungicides or bio-fungicides and control nematodes are known as nematicides and bionematicides which will be applied to seeds, foliage, flowers, fruits or soil. Sanitation is very important to remain free from insect and diseases up to some extent without using pesticides and bio-pesticides. Like Swachh Bharat we should incorporate the habit of Swachh Kheti.
Farming method for productive and healthy growing season
Ladakh is a high altitude Trans Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir having unique agro-climatic features. Raising crops in such a climatic setup is quite difficult even in summers and almost impossible during winters in open condition. Protected cultivation provides us with an opportunity to raise all sorts of vegetables during summer and a few selected ones in winters. Scientific cultivation is very important for productive and healthy growing season. We should incorporate more and more farmyard manure in the soil to build soil health and water holding capacity.
Organic farming in its latest form is a philosophical agricultural system that has its roots in ancient settled agriculture. It is now evolving in response to the ecological crisis and has re-oriented itself into a movement across the world. It is about cultivating crops with organic manures and eco-friendly pest management practices and no use of synthetic chemicals. More than 174 countries are growing organic crops both with interest of trade and ecology. Takmachik village is one of the examples in the district which has adopted organic farming. We have a scope of going 100 % organic farming in Ladakh but in phase manner and it will take time.
Technological development in agriculture
Certain changes initiated are the establishment of spawn lab in KVK-Leh which was first spawned cum pathology lab in the region for mushroom production, soil lab for analyzing soil samples, integrated pest management approach, the introduction of bio-pesticides like Trichoderma, neem oil, pheromone trap, light trap, yellow sticky trap etc.
Planting material, seeds, cattle feed, vermicompost, apricot harvesting net, mulching sheet, trench sheet etc under tribal sub-plan by SKUAST-K Kargil, KVK-Leh, KVK-Nyoma, HMMARI SKUAST-K and CAZRI, RRS-Leh A are distributed for the welfare and socio-economic upliftment of tribal people of the region.
Solutions to increase production and to make farming sustainable
Seed treatment before sowing and soil testing before taking new crop.
Using farmyard manure to build soil health and water holding capacity.
Watch and ward the crop every day
Managing insect and diseases by integrated pest management approach, crop rotation and timely irrigation.
Organic farming is one of the several approaches found to meet the objectives of sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Phuntsog Tundup, Subject Matter Specialist (Soil Science) KVK, Leh: Soil health is defined as the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. The testing of soil is very important as it determines the nutrients status as well as other factors required for getting a good crop yield. It also helps the farmers to apply manures and fertilizers to meet the requirement of the crop. In areas where the soil is affected by salinity (Patsa), soil testing allows the farmers to estimate the gypsum requirement to correct it.
The pH, soluble salts concentration, organic matter content, aggregation, available nutrients are some important soil quality indices. To maintain soil health, farmers have to supply a good amount of manures before preparation of the land.
Under Ladakh condition, the soil is degraded in the form of wind/water erosion and chemical deterioration such as salinization. To conserve such degradation process, farmers are advised to grow erosion resisting and nitrogen-fixing legumes (French beans, peas, alfa-alfa etc.) and application of organic manures. Under extreme salinity, leach out the excess salts by flooding and gypsum should be applied as an amendment.
Farmers of Ladakh are very less aware of soil testing and we are conducting a number of awareness programmes to educate them about its importance.
The best time to collect soil sample is after harvesting of the crop or before sowing of the new crop. The analysis of the soil is carried out in the laboratory via various analytical procedures.
Solutions to enhance crop production and maintaining soil quality
Farmer has to apply an adequate amount of organic manures (Farmyard Manure, Night soil etc.) fertilizers and compost/vermicompost in an integrated manner.
Dr. Kunzang Lamo, Scientist (Vegetable Science) KVK, Leh: Climate change is quite a concern today and has affected vegetation pattern the world over. It is said that higher altitudes would experience benefits in terms of crop production as many of the warm season crops wouldn’t find Ladakh hostile anymore and is evident on the fields as many crops which never grew in the open are seen in the open today.
Ladakh being a cold arid region with total dependence on glaciers for water is in a critical state today as a result of erratic weather pattern and ever-receding glaciers due to warming up of the climate. Storing the excess precipitation (if any) during summer and conserving the free flow of rivulets and streams during fall and early spring can mitigate water scarcity for agriculture during the main season.
On our fields, we have tried around 45 different vegetables each with a number of different varieties suitable for our region. We can produce them all successfully with the help of protected cultivation because many of them are warm-season crops that require a higher temperature for growth and maturation. Among cash crops- In Pea- best variety till now has been Arkel, in Potato- Kufri Jyoti and Kufri Chandramukhi have been recommended for cultivation in the region. We have not had a trial on beans yet but we have trials on today’s emerging cash crop buckwheat and expect to have resulted in the coming years.
The scope of vegetable production and marketing
Ladakh has an immense scope for vegetable production. The land is not an issue here, we have ample of it. The challenge is irrigation. With receding glacier lines, water would be a scarce resource.
Technologies like drip irrigation for wider spaced crops, mulching and storing water (ponds –local rZing) can be a solution to some extent.
Also, we have huge demands from army and tourists. Our production is way below the requirement and therefore huge quantities are transported from plains to balance the demand-supply ratio. This gap in demand and supply open ample scope for vegetable producers of the region.
For marketing, cooperative societies and local agriculture markets (Mandi) would make marketing easier and market accessible. Also, processing and value addition of our produce can make our products not only national but an international attraction.
Methods and technologies to increase production
Technologies like mulching, protected cultivation that includes trenches, low tunnels, greenhouses etc (farmer friendly and cost-effective), drip irrigation, suitable varieties and appropriate cultural practices need to be adopted by the farmers of the region for highest and quality yield.
Traditional vs Modern farming
Our traditional farming system was by default organic. The decline in livestock population in the region and introduction of chemical fertilizers both went hand in hand. Lands are no more the same as before and the absence of a proper fertilization schedule and dosage would worsen the land fertility farther. Also, mechanization has replaced the traditional agricultural practices making it easier and less labour intensive. Hand threshing has been replaced by threshers, traditional ploughing (with dZo) by tractor ploughing, local ‘Rantak’ milling by milling machines and so on.
While it is the demand of the time to adopt modern farming techniques but it is equally important to make sure that our indigenous practices do not vanish as they form the basis of the sustainable farming system.
Solutions to increase production and to make farming sustainable
Crops entirely depend on soil for their nutrition thus maintaining soil health and fertility through proper management is prerequisite of any farming system.
Fertilizer application if done should strictly be on the basis of soil testing.
An adequate amount of organic fertilizer in the form of composts and Farm Yard Manure etc should be added every year for a sustainable production.
Technologies like mulching, protected cultivation and better varieties would definitely help in increasing the production.