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.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Koshur Speaking (Rural) Women Entreprenuers

Afsana describes the unique capacity of women in rural Kashmir who have found new income opportunities

(Ms. Afsana Rashid, 30, 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." She has been a valley based correspondent for the Khidmat and Tribune, and since July 2010 has joined Dainik Bhaskar.)

Women's Jobs Pop Up in Kashmir 'Mushroom Villages'

From her home in the Kashmir Valley, Naseema Bano cultivates button mushrooms in trays to sell at the local market.

"It is profitable, and people have started purchasing," Bano says.

Mushrooms are creating a substantial profit for the valley's women, who have not had much financial freedom but can now contribute to their families.

Women here say that strict gender roles hinder their economic opportunities and the region's economic development. The female work participation rate is just 25.6 percent nationally and 22.5 percent in the state of Kashmir and Jammu, according to India's most recent census in 2001.

To reduce unemployment and empower women, Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology-Kashmir, SKUAST-K, created two model "mushroom villages" in 2009 and 2010 in the northeastern districts of Baramulla and Budgam.

Nazir Ahmad Munshi, senior scientist at SKUAST-K's Mushroom Research and Training Center, says the program offers trainings to women first at the university, then at demonstration centers in their villages and finally at their individual homes. Later, they give them materials to start production.

So far, 136 women are producing mushrooms in their homes in Budgam village and 65 women are producing mushrooms in Baramulla village to sell at local markets.

"After acquiring training from the center, I've set up my own unit," grower Haleema Begum says. "I don't have to work hard as it is an easy task and I have engaged my family members as well." SKUAST-K's Munshi says it's a feasible business.

"Being a home-based unit, women prefer mushroom production," Munshi says. "Besides, raw material required for mushroom compost that is important for mushroom production is locally available, like paddy and wheat straw, chicken manure and horse dung. We even train our trainees on how autumn fallen leaves, like apple and chinar, can be used as compost for mushroom production."

Munshi says the Horticulture Technology Mission, a government-funded mission to promote socio-economic development in India's northeastern region, provides the women with free spawn, or seeds.

He says production is also easy to sustain.

"Production technology is simple," Munshi says. "It is not dependent on power and is [an] employment-generating unit."

On top of that, Munshi says profits are significant.

For a minimum of 200 trays or 500 bags, a grower can earn $220 a month, he says. One grower earned almost $3,400 last year and some have been able to market their produce in New Delhi, India's capital.

Munshi says mushroom demand is high because many mushrooms in the state are wild and inedible. Mushrooms also have cosmetic uses -- in creams -- and pharmaceutical uses.

"Its protein value lies between meat and vegetable," he says. "Diabetic patient[s] can take it as it is [a] low-caloric food vegetable. Eighty percent of it is water."

But Munshi says it's hard for growers to market their mushrooms because they are women. To help, the university arranges load carriers to take their produce to the markets.

The university also aims to provide mini-canning units, which process mushrooms, in the villages. Munshi says that the villages should also have mushroom houses or farms, since a lack of space is another problem.

"Space in their respective homes isn't easily provided by the families to women for this purpose," says one grower, Shaista Bano, who is not related to Naseema Bano.

She says that women also face financial constraints because of their gender.

"Families aren't encouraging, and it is difficult for us to avail loan facilities," she says. "Parents don't encourage their girls for setting up businesses."

Shaista Bano says the government should assist them financially.

The Centre for Environment and Education Himalaya, a nongovernmental organization, has also set up a mushroom cultivation program for women.

"People here didn't know that mushrooms could be cultivated and consumed," says Mubashir Ahmad, a Centre for Environment and Education Himalaya coordinator. "We got spawn from SKUAST-K and offered it to our beneficiaries."

SKUAST-K aims to set up five more mushroom villages across the valley by the end of this year.

Munshi says the program plans to focus on dhingri mushrooms more than button mushrooms because they offer more crops annually, don't require compost and have a longer shelf life because they can be dried. Munshi says that if the growers can raise their prices and maintain the proper temperature during the winter -- so mushrooms can be cultivated year-round -- Kashmir could compete with China in mushroom production.

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