Ending the crop monopoly of Dal and Nigeen Lakes, Bandipora villages used the pan-Kashmir crisis situation in their favour.
Some 180 kanals of land has become a sample of a sweeping farming change in Kashmir. Situated along the mud road connecting two Bandipora villages, Nesbal and Naninara, the land is now a thriving home of lotus. The crop has replaced paddy, and its pathos with prosperity.
Besides these two villages, few Kondabal villagers—adjoining village of Nesbal and Manasbal—also share the wetland field. But mostly, the lotus has taken roots under Nesbal villagers.
The change came soon after the 2014 floods. The deluge dented paddy cultivated on 100 kanals of the land. The crop failure due to flooded fields lasted for four years. The period distressed the cultivators having no idea of the way out. But two farmers, Nazir Wagay of Nesbal and Raheem Baba of Kondabal villages came up with the solution that would eventually change the farming pattern.
The two landholders undertook the lotus root or Nadur cultivation in place of paddy. The cultivation requires water all time. And their fields were flooded with it.
In March 2019, the duo started the farming shift with their land cleaning process. They then replaced paddy with lotus roots called ‘Khill Wather’. “I own two kanals of land where as Raheem Baba has four kanals,” says Nazir shedding light on the farming shift in his hometown. “The change cost us minimal amount but ensured the fruitful change and the long-term benefits.”
Besides their flooded fields being unsuitable for paddy cultivation, there were some other reasons behind this farming shift. “We understood that lotus roots share a different cultivation and harvesting process,” Nazir continues the chronicle of the crop change. “We also knew that Nadur has better money and market in Kashmir.”
With this business belief, the March became their sowing season. And by spring, the duo would remove the unwanted pests and grass from the crop. Two months later, the harvesting process of rhizome (the subterranean stem) called Nadur in Kashmiri, would begin to their delight.
This farming change soon influenced other growers grappling with paddy pathos. Walking through the Bund and noticing the cultivation shift, the farmers were drawn to the idea. One among them was Mohammad Younis Wagay, a shopkeeper who converted his one kanal of paddy land into lotus wetland in 2020.
“We were facing recurrent crop failures here,” Younis says. “But thanks to our two guiding lights, we realized how lotus root cultivation is advantageous in many ways. It requires minimal use of fertilizers and low cost of labour than paddy.”
This sweeping farming change has already spread far and wide in the area. From six kanals in 2019, around 200 kanals of land is now being cultivated with the lotus roots. This farming shift engages about twenty-five households of Nesbal and around ten households from Kondabal and Naninara villages. And this shift driven by economic benefits is only expanding.
With a wave of prosperity, many growers now sell the crop directly to merchants or middlemen. These lotus-brokers approach the owners to buy the stock akin to the apple agents. They then put their labourers on work from dawn to dusk in the muddy fields and sell the harvest to different marketplaces, shops, and vendors across Kashmir.
“It takes around seven to ten days for four people to complete the extraction of Nadur from one kanal of wetland,” says Nisar Mir who works as a labourer in Nesbal village. “Besides the stem, lotus fruits containing seedpods, popularly called “Pambach” in Kashmiri, are also sold when they’re fully grown.”
Looking back, Nazir and Raheem are quite content with their transformational efforts. The cultivation shift has not only helped the farmers to avoid the sufferings due to paddy failures, but also benefitted them to generate a decent income to support their daily lives.
“Each crisis situation is an opportunity in itself,” says Nazir emphasizing on his former flooded fields. “I’m happy we could turn odds in our community’s favour here and brought respite to so many lives bearing the brunt of the recurring farming failures.”