Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tapping Kashmir's Unique Resources for its Economic Revitalization

Afsana discusses the outcome from a conference at the University of Kashmir which promoted the development of medicinal herbs and aromatic plants that are abundant in the valley

(Ms. Afsana Rasheed, 29, was born and raised in Srinagar and attended the Minto Circle High School. She graduated from the Government College for Women with a Bachelor's degree in science, and completed her post-graduation degree from the University of Kashmir, obtaining her Master's Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism. She has received numerous world-wide recognition and awards for covering economic depravation and gender sensitive issues in Kashmiri journals, which include Sanjoy Ghose Humanitarian Award, Bhorukha Trust Media Award 2007, and the 2006-07 UNFPA-Ladli Media Award. Her work on "Impact of conflict on subsistence livelihood of marginalised communities in Kashmir and Alternatives", was recognized by Action Aid India in 2005-06. She has travelled abroad attending a workshop on "conflict Reporting" by Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, and a seminar for women in conflict areas by IKV Pax Christi, Netherlands. In February 2008, she compiled a book, "Waiting for Justice: Widows and Half-widows.")

Valley medicinal plants hold employment potential

Afsana Rashid

Srinagar, April 22: Going by the figures of the state 80 percent medicinal plants grow in the Kashmir valley, but due to the absence of proper marketing not much enthusiasm is seen among the youth to pursue the same as means of employment. These were some of the observations shared by experts during the inaugural session of 10 days Technology based Entrepreneurship Development Programme (TEDP), “Medicinal plant cultivation, processing and marketing” organized jointly by Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC), NGO’s Coordination Federation, Jammu and Kashmir at the University of Kashmir.

During their observations, the experts said that despite having immense employment potential, medicinal herbs and aromatic plants in the valley have been left unexplored. These people viewed that geographical conditions of the Kashmir favour the growth of medicinal plants and that this sector has a great future after horticulture.

“Out of 5000 medicinal plants, 4000 grow in the valley. Most of them grow wild in forests, here and there,” said Prof. G.M.Bhat, Director University Science Instrumentation Centre (USIC), University of Kashmir.

Referring to the problems faced during cultivation of medicinal plants he referred to need for expertise, developing basic infrastructure, generating awareness and developing commercial processing plant. “People ought to be encouraged to take up the cultivation of medicinal herbs. We are basically starting from zero and there is a long way to traverse,” says Bhat.

The Director opines that medicinal herbs have huge employment potential, but as the field has been left unattended very little progress has been made in this respect. “Since market is available worldwide there is a huge scope for employment,” he added.

Touching upon the aims and objectives of the workshop, Bhat says that same has been held so as to awareness about the entrepreneur activity in this field. He believes that there is need of organizing more and more such workshops with the focus being on rural areas.

“Youth in the valley are mostly inclined towards the government jobs, but for the overall development of the nation it is imperative that a strong entrepreneur culture is built,” said the Director.

Dr. Younis Munshi, Regional Research Institute of Medical Science (RRIUM), Srinagar says that local market for the medicinal plants is high. Citing example, he says that the yearly turn over of Hamdard is 90 lakh. He suggested that the people should grow medicinal herbs as inter-crop.

Citing examples, he says that Prenulla vulgaris (kal wot), Artimisia (tathwan), Neputa can be grown along the rice fields and used as inter-crop. Artimisia, he says, can be used as the best pesticide. “Major thing is marketing and at the same time there is a need for collaboration,” added Dr. Younis.

Predicting a great future for floriculture in the Kashmir valley, Prof. Mohammad Abu Bakar Sidique, HOD Floriculture, SK University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST-K) said that more and more people are talking about the importance of medicinal plants. He attributed the same to a global phenomenon and said that the medicinal plants should be grown in the plain areas.

Touching upon the aspect of under-valuation of the medicinal plants Prof. Sidique said one kilogram of Lavender fetches Rs. 300 in the local market, whereas the same can fetch Rs. 60,000 to 70,000 in the European market. He added that this under-valuation is leading to a death of the medicinal plants.

“Our approach should not be to bring them from the forests. There are so many institutions working on the medicinal plants, any entrepreneur who wants to cultivate these plants can avail facilities of these institutions,” said the HOD Floriculture.Providing the health benefits of these medicinal plants Prof. Sidique said that in US 42 per cent prescriptions are based on plant and animal based products. He added that there is a growing demand for the medicinal herbs.“When Government of India (GOI) realized the importance of medicinal plants, a separate body was created. Thereafter, GOI established a state Medicinal Plant Board. Even we have it here and it looks after the promotion of the medicinal plants,” he said.

Prof. Abdul Aziz, Dean Academic Affairs, University of Kashmir says it is high time to get research utilized in this field.“Let us come out of laboratories and go to doorsteps of public. State in general and the valley in particular has huge potential of the medicinal plants. As per records available the state has 2, 22, 236 sq. kms mostly occupied by the forest area,” said Dean Academic Affairs.

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