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Kashmir farmers start harvesting as countryside turns golden brown

Posted on Sep 24, 04:04PM | IANS

Tormented by widespread untimely rains for almost a month, farmers are now trying to make hay while the sun shines as the countryside in Kashmir turns golden brown.

There have been widespread rains in the Valley from the middle of last month through the first fortnight of September. These untimely rains during a time the paddy crop usually ripens had created panic among the local farmers.

"If the rains had continued for another week, our entire labour of one year would have been wasted. After the paddy crop starts ripening, we need dry, hot weather both for the ripening to complete and also to begin the harvesting operations," said Ali Muhammad, 58, a farmer in central Kashmir's Badgam district.

In most parts of the Valley, farmers are able to grow just one crop during the entire year. Rice is the staple diet for the locals and the entire harvesting operation from reaping, thrashing and milling of the crop depends upon the sun god.

Laden with ripened grain, the paddy fields these days impart the entire countryside a majestic golden brown hue which makes Kashmir's autumn a treat for visitors and nature lovers.

Men, women and children are now engaged in hectic harvesting operations as the weather office has forecast dry weather during the coming days.

"The weather system has stabilised and we are expecting the present dry weather to continue for another seven to 10 days", said an official of the weather office here.

Womenfolk are working alongside men to help reap the crop.

"As my husband and children are reaping paddy, I carry their food and water to the fields, besides helping them with the harvesting," said Amina, 34, wife of Nazir Ahmad, 39, a farmer in north Kashmir's Ganderbal district.

Labourers from outside are also used extensively during the harvesting season.

"People from West Bengal and Bihar are good field workers and they come handy during the harvesting season. They are hardworking and, in contrast to the local labourers, they are less fussy," said Ghulam Muhammad Bhat, 59, a landowner in south Kashmir's Anantnag district.

The harvesting operation lasts for nearly a month as it involves reaping, threshing, drying and milling of the crop.

In the past, Kashmiris used large stone mortars and wooden pestles to mill the crop, but these days all the milling is done at rice mills run on electricity.

One of the biggest problems with the shrinking cultivable land in the Valley in the last two decades has been their conversion for commercial purposes.

The existing law which forbids conversion of agricultural land for any other purpose is observed more in its breach.

Residential houses, shopping complexes, gas filling stations and motor workshops are now seen dotting the countryside.

"Due to this, the cultivable land in the Valley has shrunk drastically, besides depriving many areas of their rural character," said Bashir Ahmad War, a retired veterinarian.

War also said most of the grazing land which is protected under the existing laws has been either deprived of its original purpose or grabbed by the land mafia.

"Agriculture in Kashmir has always been an unprofitable exercise because of the increasing cultivation costs and falling prices of the produce.

"In a place where a bottle of drinking water costs more than a bottle of pure milk, how can agriculture and allied activities remain profitable," the veterinarian asked.

Despite their dependence on fair weather and the low cost of their produce, Kashmir's farmers are these days enjoying the harvesting of their fields.

"This is what my father, grandfather and his father have been doing for centuries. The joy and thrill looking at a ripe paddy field is perhaps not matched by any other joy in my life", said Ghulam Muhammad Rather, 36, another farmer here.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.qayoom@ians.in)