Beyond Agriculture- insights into farm based entrepreneurship in Lahaul (H.P)

Agriculture has made considerable progress in Himalayan states. One of the major changes in the mountain farming system is from subsistence to commercial farming practice. There’s a curious move towards high-value cash crops and diversification of cropping patterns. With connectivity and better exposure, farmers in these landscapes are increasingly becoming more innovative. Their approach in production, managing supply chains, and marketing are aimed at higher returns from farming. The New Age farmers from High Himalayan villages are more experimental and are more focused on searching for niches -apples, cash crops, fruits, exotic vegetables, flowers. Their engagement with farming goes beyond survival and sees it as an economically lucrative option for themselves and others associated in the value chain. Stories of such individuals dismiss stereotypical myths about farming and show how it can be adopted in changing times.

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Photos Courtesy: Tashi Angroop

Tashi Angroop from Tinno village in Lahaul (H.P) dons more than one hat. He is a farmer, passionate entrepreneur, and agri-businessman who cultivates traditional grains, experimented and scaled up the cultivation of exotic vegetables in Todh valley, and is also initiating agro-tourism in his village. He started his journey in 2007 when he got an opportunity to work with World Bank’s Project in Lahaul promoting Seabuckthorn nurseries. Further collaboration with the Department of Horticulture on Desert Development Program (DDP) deepened his experience of developing poplar tree nurseries and building seabuckthorn nurseries. With Jain Irrigation System, he extensively traveled in Himachal Pradesh covering 11 districts to understand diverse cultivation processes within the state and train locals in nursery building. He took a leap at his own venture in 2014 when he decided to take up farming as a full-time vocation. He took land on lease in his village to cultivate organic vegetables and experiment with the cultivation of exotic vegetables which is a fairly new intervention in Lahaul back then. He began by procuring 1000 potato seeds (1000 Katta) and started growing them in his field. Initially, it was just potatoes, green peas, and cauliflower.

Over the years, Tashi gradually started diversifying and began cultivating more varieties of exotic vegetables and made efficient use of farming technologies and irrigation facilities. He now cultivates 19 varieties (mostly European exotic vegetables) vegetables in his field including broccoli, Iceberg lettuce, Red leaf, Yellow leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, Squash (Jugni), Yellow & green zucchini, celery, parsley, leek, snow peas, fennel, European carrots, red cabbages, other herbs, and exotic roots, etc. He introduced the same to many villages in Todh valley (Tinno, Gaimur, Jispa, Chika, and Sumdo) in Lahaul where farmers are now able to grow vegetables during off-seasons and sell them at a premium rate in metropolitan markets. Within his own community, he became the face of changing agricultural practices and popularized the phrase “Tel bharo, Kheti Karo” in Lahaul where he encouraged young farmers to adopt improved technologies like tillage machines and JCBs to do farming. In many instances, he even lent his own JCB and tiller machines to help people till rocky barren lands for farming.

 

The farming communities in Todh valley of Lahaul are now incorporating off-season vegetables along with traditional cereal crops. Different farming technologies like power tillers, tractor, power bidders, grass cutter, spray machine, sprinklers to improve the yield. Compared to Spiti the neighboring district, Lahaul receives more rain which is suitable for cultivation, potatoes, green peas, hops, cabbages, and other exotic vegetables and herbs. In fact, Lahauli potatoes are considered some of the best in the country and it is believed that these crops have brought prosperity to Lahaul.

Composting is an essential requirement to grow exotic vegetables and locals rely heavily on vermicomposting. Most Lahauli households have separate vermicompost structure at their home. Tashi himself annually prepares around 17 tonnes of compost to use it in his fields. He adds “We use jungle wastes like wild leaves, raw leaves, dry leaves, Juniper leaves, and other organic waste inlcuding manure, human waste, and Kenchua (organic manure)”. “Every household prepares compost 3-4 times in the unit and use it in their field to improve soil fertility”.

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Photo Courtesy: Tashi Angroop

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Photo Courtesy: Tashi Angroop

With time, locals were also able to enhance irrigation system and equip technologies which is more efficient and convenient. Earlier water resources are distributed among farming households on a rotational basis. There’s a watering turn for everyone and a farmer has to wait for about 6 days to receive his share of water to irrigate the fields. With improved irrigation systems in most Lahauli villages, the watering turns have almost disappeared. Direct pipes were connected from glacial sources to Kuccha Kuls (field canals) and every household have direct access to it. Tashi enthusiastically adds “one can finish the irrigation within 3-4 hours now! Almost unthinkable in the past.” Almost 90 percent of Lahauli villages are relying on piped or drip irrigation systems. There’s an increased use of sprinklers and rain gun watering systems.

 

With improved road connectivity, better transportation system, and the availability of new crop inputs like hybrid seeds and organic fertilizers, the farmers in the hilly region of Lahaul are able to fetch gain higher yields and better prices. The returns from the sale of vegetables are five times higher than that of traditional crops. There’s a high demand for exotic vegetables in metropolitan cities and Lahauli cultivators are now able to sell their produce in Delhi, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Surat, etc. The farmers from Todh, Turat and Keylong have collectivized and formed a union of 101 farming households to provide better market exposure and greater revenues for the local producers.

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Some of the initiatives include farmers market, over-the-counter payment system for the farmers, and also experimenting with the concept of “one village, one crop” where each village will focus on producing a single crop unique to their area and giving better opportunities for farm entrepreneurs. The farmer’s union will be collaborating with big hotel chains like Taj to supply them year-round vegetables.

 

Opening up of Atal Tunnel has also huge impact on farming in Lahaul. There’s surge in tourists flocking in the valley and farmers are keen on integrating agriculture and tourism. They have initiated farm-based enterprises like camps and homestays where tourists can take part in the sowing process, harvesting, procuring vegetables, and immerse themselves in rural agricultural life with locals during their stay. Tashi’s own farm camp in Tinno and Keylong attracts a lot of tourists. He shares that the motive is to give them first-hand experience of agriculture, self-cooking and be part of the collective experience of the landscape. Cultivators like Tashi show that there can be a more forward-looking approach for agriculture and it can harp beyond the traditional way of life. With greater solidarity, there’s positive hope for farming in high Himalayan landscapes to empower small farmers.

Photo Courtesy: Tashi Angroop

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Packaging process (left), compost facility (right). Photo Courtesy: Tashi Angroop

About the Author

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Tashi Angroop

Tashi Angroop is agri-entrepreneur from Tinno village in Lahual. He cultivates organic exotic vegetables in his farm and is interested in sharing his knowledge to youth in himalayan villages. His experience ranges from developing nurseries to cultivating wide varieties of vegetables to marketing it in big metropolitan cities.