Asking the universities to travel extra mile in navigating technologies from lab to land, Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, Monday said the farmers will have to be taken onboard if agriculture sector has to reclaim its key position in the state’s economy.
She said nature has been too kind in bestowing us with abundant water resources that can boost our agriculture production to the extent where we not only become self-sufficient but also export our produce to other parts of the country. “Unlike other states which are grappling with droughts, farmer suicides and water shortages, we have been lucky in having ample water resources to harness our agriculture potential,” she stated.
The Chief Minister was addressing a large gathering of people during the 5th Convocation of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology (SKUAST-J), at the General Zorawar Singh Auditorium of Jammu University, here this morning.
Governor, N. N. Vohra, the Chancellor of the University, and Dr. Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman NITI Aayog, who was the Chief Guest, were also present on the occasion.
Besides Chairman, Legislative Council, Haji Inayat, Deputy Chief Minister, Dr. Nirmal Singh, Minister for Agriculture Production, Ghulam Nabi Lone, Minister for Education, Naeem Akhter, other members of the Council of Ministers and legislators also attended the Convocation.
Calling upon the scientists to share their knowledge with the farmers, the Chief Minister, who is also the Pro-Chancellor of the university, said any research that doesn’t change lives and technology that doesn’t upgrade livelihoods of poor farmers is meaningless. She said her late father and former Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, used to untiringly remind scientists to come out of their cocoons and take their knowledge into the field. “How scientists at SKUAST-J rise to the challenge of sustainable agriculture, organic farming and food security is something I would be keenly watching,” she added.
Highlighting the huge strides made by countries like New Zealand, Netherlands, Australia and US in agricultural entrepreneurship, the Pro-Chancellor urged the graduating students to take pride in their newly-acquired knowledge so that they become trendsetters of a new agricultural awakening. “Even though agriculture and allied sectors continue to remain the mainstay of our economy, it is disappointing that we have not been able to sell this idea to our new generation,” she observed.
Congratulating the students for attaining their degrees, the Chief Minister said she will back their endeavours in taking research in agriculture to the next higher level. She said she was extremely pleased to witness the excellent performance shown by the girls in the field of agriculture, which she said is crucial on many counts. “I am proud of the three girls who won gold medals today for their distinguished performance,” she added.
Stating that agriculture determines performance of our economy, ensures food security and rural employment, the Chief Minister expressed serious concern over the trend of converting agricultural lands into non-agricultural purposes and wanton construction on highly-productive lands. She said no law or punishment can work unless we incentivize agriculture and inspire the farmer to cultivate land to earn a handsome income.
Putting her weight firmly behind making agriculture attractive to our youngsters, Mehbooba Mufti said dovetailing Centrally-sponsored schemes with state government facilities will make us self-sufficient in agriculture and allied sectors like animal & sheep husbandry, poultry, dairy, apiculture and sericulture. She stressed upon minimizing imports by increasing our levels of production by highlighting the example of lucrative mutton industry where against our requirement of 51,000 tonnes, we import 21,000 tonnes from outside the state.
“Not only can we fill this gap, we could even target a huge market nationwide. Jammu region, because of its climatic advantages and access to pastures holds a great potential to be tapped,” she stated.
Drawing the attention of the new graduates to the booming horticulture sector, Mehbooba Mufti singled out the amazing success story of a young entrepreneur Khurram Shafi for them to emulate. “I would love to take you to his apple orchard and the chain of CA stores. The average yield is 10-15 times higher in comparison to the produce through traditional orcharding, hence more remunerative,” she said.
The Chief Minister referred to the huge potential of Jammu in mango and orange farming, high-priced litchi and other citrus fruits. She also emphasized upon expanding cultivation of olive in the Chenab valley, where preliminary experiments have shown encouraging results.
Urging the universities to upgrade courses to keep pace with new technological advancements, Mehbooba Mufti said agri-tourism holds huge dividends for the state in food and food processing industries. She flagged medicinal plants, cut flowers, saffron processing and aromatic varieties of basmati as thrust areas requiring special attention of the scientists and the farmers. “We can think of Theme Villages around basmati, milk, walnut, apricot, peaches, leek and pulses,” she added.
The Chief Minister also stressed upon short diploma courses for young progressive farmers, who want to pursue entrepreneurship in agriculture and allied sectors, besides holding awareness camps to acquaint them in new trends in the farming sector.
Describing hankering after a government job as devaluation of knowledge and skill, the Chief Minister urged the graduating students to think big and take maximum benefit out of various credit facilitation schemes launched by the state and central governments in modern farming. She invited suggestions from graduating students to transform the agriculture sector. “The government will support you on all fronts. I want you to become partners in our new plans for rejuvenating the agriculture sector,” she promised.
Earlier, the Chief Minister conferred degrees among 42 candidates in recognition of their having secured OGPA (Overall Grade Point Average) of 8.00 and above on a scale of 10.00 points in Doctoral and Masters Programmes.