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Overview of the agriculture system

Palas presents a challenging physical and social environment for agricultural development.  A population of 60,000+ people is scattered in diffuse villages over 1300 sq km of some of the world's most rugged and remote mountain terrain.  Many villages lie two or more days' trek from the road-head.  Transhumance (the seasonal movement of the entire population) and a prevalence of violent disputes (mostly over land) complicate training and extension.  Agro-ecologically, higher altitude land in Palas present difficulties for the introduction of improved crop varieties, while a wide range of improved varieties are available for lower altitudes.

 Palas is not self-sufficient in food, crop varieties are not improved and yields very poor. Cropping practices and agricultural implements are primitive and knowledge of improved crop production is very poor.

 For most other crops, there is a lack of good seed of improved varieties (and other planting materials).  Vegetables and pulses are under-utilised and fruit trees are hardly cultivated despite considerable potential.  There is also potential for developing fodder production on fallow agricultural land and village margins. 

 No or very little fertilisers are used and in most maize areas, fixation of phosphate is a problem, with low concentrations of soil phosphates. Farmyard manure (FYM) is not properly stored, but rather added fresh to the soil. Traditionally Farm Yard Manure is the main source of soil fertility. There is no custom of spraying and in general therefore no protection against pests and diseases. Very primitive agricultural implements are used, however in recent years, ploughing of land by tractor has started in Badakot.

 A lack of modern agricultural knowledge extends to most aspects of crop production, and farmers are unable to resolve problems for themselves.  Agricultural support services are almost non-existent and poor access and rugged terrain make the import of agricultural inputs costly and difficult.  There are no formal rural credit systems, and informal systems are generally exploitative.

 Loans from bank or other institutions are not applied for or utilized due to the bureaucratic procedures as well as interest that has to be paid back.

Vegetables

Traditionally the people do not grow vegetables and purchase vegetables from the market. However the villages near to the markets grow vegetables like tomatoes, brinjles, chillies, okra, radish and turnips. No detailed information is available.

 Potatoes, turnips and radish are grown in summer in pastures at high altitudes, ranging from 2720 to 3630 Masl. The potatoes are grown for subsistence since there is great difficulty in their transportation to the markets.

 Radish and turnips are sown on small scale at Sherakot, Sheryal, Shalkanabad and Paro. These vegetables are exchanged or sold for other food items such as maize etc.

Vegetables from the forest

Majority of the locals of Palas collect vegetable from the forest, there are approximately forty types of vegetables found in the forests of the valley. The people of the valley prefer a fern locally known as ‘Kuji’, this is collected and dried for winter consumption.

Fruits

Traditionally the, the tendency of planting orchards is very low. Scattered plants of wild persimmon and walnuts are found in the valley.

 In 1995 and 1996 Himalayan Jungle Project established several orchards and nurseries; the planting materials were imported from Europe. These include cherries, apples, pears and plums. Plants raised in these nurseries are sold locally and about 13 new orchards have been established due to the impact of the HJP interventions.

Bee-keeping and honey extraction

Bee-keeping and honey collection is quite common in the valley. This practice is traditional and it produces approximately 2% (Rs. 1,040,130) of the total income in Palas.

 The people of Palas are not familiar with the commercial bee farming though 95% of the honey produced is sold in local markets. The locally produced honey is not purified, i.e. the wax.

Problems of Agriculture

There is a paucity of systematic base-line data on crop varieties, yields and farming system in Palas.  The diversity of agro-ecological conditions (altitude, aspect, soil nutrient deficiencies, moisture, etc.) are as yet poorly mapped and described. 

 Maize is the primary source of food and fodder, but varieties grown are mostly unimproved or degenerate. They are low yielding, late maturing, and tall, often lodging before maturity.  This may be due to poor seed selection practices (selection of maize seed from the threshing floor instead of from the standing crop causes later maturity).

 Agricultural support services are almost non-existent.  Palas has largely been passed over by national, regional and international agricultural initiatives and there is no current research, development or extension infrastructure in the region.

Wild vegetables

Palasi people depend on wild plants (vegetables) from forests and consume them locally. These plants are usually collected by women, who also dry them for consumption during winter. There are approximately 40 different kinds of plants which are used as vegetables.

Wild fruits

Many wild fruits are found in the valley, which are consumed by the local people. Among these, seeded white and black grapes are very popular as well as a large number of walnut and Amulk trees that have been grown on cultivated fields and along irrigation channels. The major portion of fruit is consumed locally; however, surplus quantity is occasionally sold in the local market.