In Kashmir’s ‘Chota Punjab’, the vegetable boom is scripting new success stories

When their dried paddy fields paved way to vegetable gardens some decades back, none in Budgam’s Bugam hamlet had thought that they would one day emerge as the new vegetable hub in Kashmir. Today as more than 80 percent of the local population is directly engaged with farming, new technology and proper marketing methods are only enhancing the hamlet’s ‘vegetative’ growth.

The sun-washed fields in Kashmir’s new vegetable center has a busy vibe to it. On the bank of an irrigation stream, an aged-bearded farmer is cleaning carrots. His tribe is either busy in their gardens or selling the produce on the sidewalks. They’re working another day to fuel Bugam’s ‘rising sun’ story—making it Kashmir’s new sunshine enterprise, ‘devoid of any official backing’.

In this small hamlet in Central Kashmir’s Budgam district, the vegetable boom is now inviting researchers’ frequent field trips, and reporters’ growing quest for success stories.

Mindful of this ‘new growth story’ in his backyard, the aged farmer Ghulam Mohammad shifts from carrot cleaning to tend to his vegetable garden.

“Vegetable cultivation isn’t a new phenomenon in Bugam,” the aged farmer set records straight to begin with. “But yes, earlier, it wasn’t happening on such a massive scale.”

Behind the large scale vegetable cultivation were the dried paddy fields.

“All this was paddy land earlier,” says Ghulam, pointing towards swatches of vegetable fields. “But low returns on paddy crop and shortage of water forced the local farmers to give up paddy farming.” Soon as the irrigation facilities were set up, it drove more and more villagers to vegetable farming.

And when the shift took place, Ghulam converted half of his paddy land into Apple orchards and the rest into a vegetable garden. And today, given the sweeping vegetative change over Bugam, he’s quite pleased with his decision.

With the boom, Bugam’s landholders have started employing non-local workforce on the pattern of paddy cultivation and harvesting in the valley. At peace with the transition and evolution, the locals are mulling to engage more workforce in view of the soaring demand.

“Our business is doing great,” says Abdul Quyoom Ganie, a local vegetable cultivator in his mid-forties. “I cultivate vegetables on my own land, besides purchasing vegetables from other farmers and marketing them in different vegetable marts.”

This is now a new trade spinoff for self-sufficient farmers in Bugam. They employ non-locals to till and tender their farms, buy from other farmers and trade it in the bigger markets to ‘make hay while the sun is shining’.

“Each day in our hamlet,” Ganie continues, “farmers send their fresh vegetable stock for different Mandis [vegetable marts] through trucks.” The supply mainly feeds Srinagar’s Parimpora Mandi and Jammu’s Fruit Mandi. “This farming and marketing activity keeps Bugam abuzz and busy for ten months.”

Located in Chadoora, Bugam is around 17 km from Srinagar. The hamlet has already created ‘pockets of prosperity’ in the perspective of economic development through its growing agriculture activities.

But what otherwise looks like a sudden rise of Bugam on the vegetable production front, has in fact been achieved through the silent investment based on toil and slog of farmers over the years.

“Make no mistake about it. Nothing happened here overnight,” says a local shopkeeper Fahreed Shah, who possesses one hectare of vegetable land. “Before coming to age, Bugam saw farmers sweating day in and day out. And the change which we’re right now seeing was inevitable, as more than 80 percent inhabitants of this hamlet are doing it for their living.”

But as the collective and ‘huge’ output was channelized into markets outside Kashmir as exports, Bugam earned a new name: ‘Chota Punjab’. What equally helped this vegetable hamlet to grow was its ability to rise above the traditional forms of farming.

Earlier farmers would use traditional iron buckets to carry water from deep wells with the help of a long wood log, which was tightened on the back side with a heavy stone and the front with a rope. But now, much of that has changed and has been replaced with scientific farming.

“For years now,” says a skinny grower, Mohammad Yaqoob Bhat who owns 25 hectares of land, “Bugam is into production of vegetables. Especially after irrigation facilities were developed, the hamlet boomed more in vegetable farming.”

Around 25 truckloads of vegetables leave Bugam for different markets everyday, Bhat says. Besides that, many traders visit the hamlet to directly buy their bulk stock.

The economy of Jammu and Kashmir is predominately dependent on agriculture and nearly 70% of the population is directly or indirectly engaged in agriculture. The farmers in the Kashmir Valley as per estimates are exporting vegetables worth Rs 900.00 crore. Vegetable cultivation is being undertaken over a net area of 22,517.96 hectares (gross area of 48,160.92 hectares) with a production of about 1,539.59 (000’MT) with an annual value of Rs 3,079.17 Cr.

The total requirement of vegetables is 900.78 metric tonnes for the population of Kashmir, Leh and Kargil. Deducting daily consumption of vegetable from total production results surplus 638.83 metric tonnes, on which revenue is generated in Rs 1,277.67 Crore.

But the way Bugam is doing it has already become an inspiration for the larger farming community of Kashmir. The hamlet is leading in vegetable farming in Chadoora and BK Pora belt, as per the latest statistical report of Agriculture Department of Kashmir.

With its net cultivation area of 131.80 hectare, Bugam’s total vegetable production stands at 1,60,533 quintals.

“There’s no hand of the government in Bugam’s emergence as Kashmir’s new vegetable hub,” Bhat, the farmer, says. “Infact, as a farmer, I have knocked doors of the concerned department umpteen times for inoculation, seeds and schemes and many other facilities, but in return, most of us got nothing.”

But with time, Bugam vegetable growers have learnt to rise above the official plan.

Farming with the same attitude, Gulzar Ahmad has been growing vegetables on his land, in addition to the land he took on a lease from his relative, for the last seven years now.

“I earn Rs 15,000 per month on an average,” Gulzar says. “One can earn more in times of high demand and prices.” Presently, as the farmers are busy with cabbage and carrot harvesting in the hamlet, Gulzar says, over fifteen varieties of vegetables are being grown in Bugam.

Despite facing some hitches in the form of infrastructural support and storage, Gulzar and his tribe is now adopting proper marketing channels to bring home more profit. And this is only adding to the ‘sunshine enterprise’ story that Bugam has become on the vegetable front in Kashmir.


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