A Renewed Interest

Story by Saima Bhat in June, Sopore

The taboo that associated farming with the economically backward class of the society is fast changing as highly qualified youth see it as a business opportunity. Saima Bhat travels to some of the picturesque locations in Kashmir to meet an entrepreneur who is out to change the trend

Leaving a lucrative job in Mumbai

Fazal Amin, who is in his late twenties, left his lucrative job in Mumbai to realize his childhood dream of rearing sheep in his native town Sopore in North Kashmir. It was not an easy decision for him as his father, a successful contractor, wished his son to join him in his business.

After completing his degrees, MBA and then LLB from Pune in 2008 Fazal started a job in Mumbai as HR manager in Patni computers where he stayed for two years till 2010. Finally he returned home.

Back home he wished to work but didn’t find a job which suits him. After a research of complete one year he decided to continue with his hobby of rearing sheep.But it was a different step. For the place like Sopore where people are mostly associated with the horticulture business, and for which the town is known for, Fazal wished to do something different.

What matured Fazal’s idea of rearing sheep was when he read an advertisement of JKEDI in 2011 about the start of a course in entrepreneurship.“After joining those classes my idea became clearer and I decided of starting a sheep farm,” says Fazal. And adds besides that, EDI was providing an additional support, loans to new budding entrepreneurs at promised less interest rate, Seed capital fund loan scheme. Under this scheme one part of loan is given as subsidy and other part has to be returned to the J&K Bank after two years.

Fazal says to fulfill all formalities for loan was a very hectic process. “Even after completing the course with EDI, a loan of only Rs two lakhs @ 9 % interest rate was sanctioned in July 2012, for which I had applied in January.”. “Loan amount was released in July but that point of time livestock remain in mountainous areas for grazing and I decided to go to those areas and buy the livestock first. But I was asked by EDI to build infrastructure first which could have been done after that,” says Fazal.

The plan got changed and Fazal started building infrastructure. As decided earlier he was going to build the infrastructure on modern and scientific method, wooden Batten flooring.

He started the infrastructure work from the money he had earned from his job and from the loan amount. “I had some saving as I had started earning from the first year of my college.”

Finally the infrastructure was build. Fazal says it took him almost Rs 12 lakhs to build a farm on scientific method. And then he named it after his grandfather, Ramzaan Agro farms. He joined the newly set trend of educated youth joining different innovative ideas of becoming entrepreneurs.

Selection is the key

Should not have invested that much amount

Spread over 04 kannals of land, Ramzan Agro farms is situated 15 kms away from Sopore town at Sagipora Sopore.After investing such a huge amount on infrastructure only, Fazal says he should not have invested that much amount. He says that he had planned of starting a farm with 300 eves for which he selected around 100 eves, female sheep in first go.

The consultation

“But when I consulted my friend Dr Faisal who is from veterinary science and my father who told me among these 100 only two were of the set standard. The eves I had selected were all aged,” says Fazal adding that it was a very tiresome exercise.

70 out of 3000 is tiresome

Then with the help of his friend and father, Fazal traveled to many places like Pattan, Ganderbal, Bandipora, Kishtwar and many more places during early morning hours and selected his stock of 70 eves from the flocks. These 70 eves cost him Rs 3 Lakhs and Fazal doesn’t hesitate in saying, “By then I was drained out and I had to take financial help from my father.” All these 70 eves are hybrid sheep’s- Kashmir Merino eves, which he selected from 3, 000 eves selected from places across the Kashmir valley. And the male sheep’s, Rams are provided to farmers by state husbandry department for a limited period of time after which they have to be returned.

Knowing the trade

The genetics

As per the department of sheep husbandry, Kashmir Merino breed was evolved around 1960 at government Sheep Breeding and Research Farm Reasi (Jammu) by crossing local Kashmir Valley ewes with Tasmanian Merino rams. Bred ewes so obtained were then bred to Dalaine rams imported from U.S.A to produce a stock with 75% level of inheritance from two exotic breeds. This was followed among the 3/4th two breed cross-breds and accompanied by a rigorous selection on the bas fleece weight, wool quality and body weight. This group of animals was given the name of Merino. The Kashmir Merino Sheep are 3 to 4 times more productive than the local she also comparable even to exotic fine wool breeds in economic traits, besides having an ad, being resistant to the adverse climatic conditions and diseases.

Time to cross breed

More importantly the bred of Kashmir Merino was for the need of fine wool used in garments. Dr Zahoor ul Haq, medical officer, Sheep husbandry department, Kashmir says, “Even if the sheep farming is tradition enterprise in Kashmir but in 1960 GOI permitted for the cross breed of Kashmiri breeds and Merino’s- Australian breeds so that India does not need to import it from other foreign countries, which was otherwise very costly. But after that government of India never gave permission for another cross breed.” He adds that presently there is a need to go for another cross breed of sheep’s Finn sheep- which will help Kashmiri market to tackle the extra demand for meat. “It is a good business and self sustainable. It might be more than 500 or 600 crores business,” he says.

Research pays

While speaking about his future plans Fazal says that for three years he is not going to sell off any sheep. “I just want to increase their number first up to 500 and will keep that as my level. In future I will extend my farm as well. I want it to be a complete farm which will include dairy farm and orchards as well.” And with a laughter he says how initially he had planned to buy the sheep from Rajasthan and it was only after his research that he found that those sheep’s are for eating purposes only.

Cars and Mobiles

Merino - Wool and meat

In Kashmir more than 75 percent of Sheep population is cross breeds- Kashmir Merino, corriedale sheep- dual purpose breed for meat and wool, Hortipastoral breed- particularly for the areas where horticulture is developed, Down breed- but they are limited to some farms only and the Rambouillet breed which is specific to Jammu only.

In its infancy

For Fazal his farm business is still at its infancy where he is investing without any return. He says it has been possible for him to continue with it because he had already some savings and his father is continuously supporting him financially. Besides that it has been easier for him as he had the orchard land in which he started his farm and in addition to that he had the grazing land also available, for which others have to pay. Fazal says that grazing land for Sheep is as important as food. So far Fazal says the total investment must be around Rs 25 lakhs. He says that his father is also interested in continuing with his farm.

Eternal bond

“Animals share a different eternal love with humans. All of his sheep’s are emotionally attached to me.” And in excited tone he adds, “These days they are with a shepherd, who is known to me, in mountains and when I went to see them, all of them came around me and started making bleats.”Fazal suggests that it is very important that shepherd must be known to you. Shepherd along with his family are employees of Fazal.

All you need to know

Keeping the mortality down

The only care sheep’s need is they are very prone to get foot routs and besides that they need vaccination, and all these comes at a very minimal cost of Rs 2, 000 only, says Fazal. He further says that the months of winters December, January and February remain tough as it is snow outside. “That is why this year I have already sown turnips, carrots and other eatables in my orchard. This year I want to remain prepared for winters. My farm is in my orchard of 10 kannals but I have kept farm demarcated with fencing.”

After a year with Kashmir Merino sheep’s what Fazal earns from them is wool and their manure. “We used to get fertilizers for Rs 30, 000 to 40, 000 but for this year I used the manure from sheep’s and saved that much amount. And for wool we sell it off at Rs 60 to 80 per Kgs and in a year we get wool twice from them. In March one sheep gives about 2 kgs of wool and in September, after returning from mountains one sheep provide about 4 Kgs of wool.”

Fazal says that the mortality rate of these animals depend upon the care one provides them.Dressed in branded outfits Fazal says that he feel honored if his friends call him a pohol, Shepherd. “I don’t care if anybody says that I returned from Pune and didn’t a job and that is why I am doing this. I am quite satisfied with my decision.”

But he says that if he had the financial support from his family he would had never achieved the position where he is presently. “If EDI says that you will have to return the loan amount after two years but the Bank starts it interest from the day 1 and the loans are not provided at the promised rate of 9% but are given at 11%. I personally feel that the refund for loan should start from two years after so that till then the farmers may stand their business.”Besides that Fazal also accuses the government departments for not providing such entrepreneurs funds. “Under NABARD each district has Rs 25 lakhs funds but when I approached Chief Office Baramulla they didn’t approve my papers and at the end I heard this year the funds under NABARD have lapsed.” Instead what government provides them is the availability of doctors for these animals, says Fazal.

Fazal is among very few farmers who have scientific farm. He started with 70 eves, female sheep, but after a year he claims to have more than 300 eves now.