Zahoor Ahmad Dar is the first Kashmiri Muslim to crack the IIM exam. He is currently Associate Professor in Dry Land Agriculture Research Station, Sheri-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST). He spoke to Aasif Sultan on his profession, agriculture in Kashmir and other issues
You made it to the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad in 2003. Tell us more about that.
When I qualified for the IIM, my family didn’t realize what I had done. Even I didn’t realize it. People are often hitched to this programme with big salaries at the back of their mind. This was not the case with me. I knew that two- year course at IIM Ahmedabad is a rigorous course. At that time there was no coaching centre for such courses in the Valley. I sought some help from the internet and contacted some friends who were outside the Valley. I cracked the exams and was selected in Post Graduate Diploma in Agricultural Business Management. But my mother fell sick and I had to make a decision: either to go for MBA or to look after my mother. I chose the latter.
How important is research in agricultural sciences with respect to Kashmir economy?
Tremendous potential exists for agricultural research in Kashmir. We produce 70% of our own food grains. But unfortunately from the past three decades, there has been unplanned urbanization. It is a misnomer that if the Srinagar-Jammu highway gets closed for two days we will starve. We produce vegetables when there is off-season outside. But the issue is we are losing land rapidly. There is another thing. Lot of land has gone to horticulture. This should not have happened normally. In the name of earning money we should not sacrifice our sustainability. The government should bring in a law that completely bans conversion of agricultural land.
What is the agricultural status of the Valley?
We contribute Rs 5000 crore to the state exchequer through horticulture. If we can only produce more maize for our poultry then we can save a lot of money from the state exchequer, which otherwise is being diverted to outside states.
Agricultural land conversion, as you pointed out, continues unabated. What will be its repercussions on our economy?
It will be a disaster if we go on losing land like this. We once produced rice that was sufficient to sustain the population for ten months. But when you remove even 25% of that agricultural land, the sustainability goes from ten months to seven months. There needs to be a well-planned programme to stop it. We can survive on our agricultural production provided we plan accordingly.
Ways through which we can enhance our agricultural production?
By using more and more advanced technologies. The crops we grow here are quality-wise, taste-wise superior to the same crops grown outside.
Traditionally Valley was an agricultural society. But now we are moving away from it. What are
the reasons for this?
The reasons are: very low capital formation in agriculture, no planning on the part of people concerned, low diffusion of technologies generated by SKUAST and, last but not the least, the non-seriousness of the government.
A different question. You wrote an article in 2011 where you criticized parents who force their children to choose a profession of their (parents) choice. Do you still share the same views?
Yes. You must realize that because of peer pressure and parental pressure, our youth are getting into professions that they neither appreciate nor have any aptitude for.
I will list IAS, KAS in it. Everybody wants to do IAS or KAS irrespective whether he or she can do justice to that profession. It is a kind of wildfire. There is a hidden force behind it that is social in nature rather than academic. Had it been academic or technical, then it would have been justified.
Career options are wide and varied in the world. Technology, law, management, administration, research and others — these are fields that have great potential. We must introduce these fields at school levels so that children are exposed to these possibilities as a career choice. In fact, I would say that we need to educate the teachers first. I still believe in the ad- age: teacher’s mistake is reflected in the nation.