Hemp Farming Can Protect India’s Border Villages From Encroachment By Hostile Neighbors

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Farming to stop encroachment? Sounds ludicrous! It will not – when you hear the Uttarakhand story.

Uninhabited villages along the border are a threat to national territorial integrity. Especially if neighboring countries turn hostile. Encroachment becomes that much easier with no one to notice unusual movements.

Except for the army guarding the border, that is. Intruders may be able to elude the hawk eyes of the army. The lack of people facilitates uninterrupted inward movement.

Strange though it might seem, hemp farming can save India from such an unwanted situation. In one state, at least, with two international borders.


Uttarakhand and Its Ghost Villages

We are talking about Uttarakhand here. A northern Indian state in the foothills of the Himalayas. It shares international borders with China, and with Nepal.

India has strained relations with both these neighbors as we write this post in July 2020.
Many of the mountainous border villages of Uttarakhand have turned into ghost villages. No one lives there any longer. That adds to India’s concerns.

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The Sad Tale of Uttarakhand’s Out-Migration

Take the decade 2001-2011. The population in the hill region of Uttarakhand declined from 53% of the state population to 48%. A study by the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj says so.

Development in the state has been uneven. That has caused mass-scale temporary and permanent out-migration. From the hill region of Uttarakhand. Lack of access to education, employment, and healthcare are the major factors.

A June 2018 report in The Indian Express offers updated information. On out-migration from the mountainous region of Uttarakhand. The report draws its data from the Uttarakhand Rural Development and Migration Commission. Actual visits to several ghost villages animate the dry data.

Between 2011 and 2017, as many as 734 villages have become permanently deserted. The estimated people to have moved out is about 1.19 lakh. Another 565 villages have lost about half their population.


Why Are These Villages Vulnerable?

Deserted villages along any international border facilitate the stealthy inward movement of foreign forces. We have already mentioned that. That is a threat whenever antagonism develops with a neighboring country.

There is a completely different dimension to the out-migration phenomenon also. A 2018 report in The Hindustan Times reflects that. Especially in the twin valleys of Mukteshwar and Ramgarh.

These were once known as the apple basket of the Kumaon region. Apple production in the area has suffered considerably due to climate change and rising temperature levels. That has forced a mass exodus of people in search of income-earning opportunities.

The hospitality business has stepped into this gap. Hotels and resorts have sprung up in the picturesque valleys, with the owners settling in. That has also caused large-scale in-migration of Nepali people. The hotel and resort owners are hiring them.

The locals resent this changing demographic pattern. That raises a specter of possible future conflicts. Such an internal security concern merges with the possible threats of border encroachment.


Other Concerns

Deserted villages in Uttarakhand’s hilly areas pose other serious concerns as well. They have ramifications well beyond the borders of the state. The ecology of the Indian Himalayan Region is a fragile one. Global warming and climate change have made it even more so.

More people leaving means further decrease in what little agriculture remains. Increased areas of cultivable land are left fallow. There’s no one to till them. That is a serious threat to the ecological balance of the area.

The cropping intensity in 2013-2014 was merely 0.64%. Only 14.5% of the cultivable land area was under agricultural use, with the rest left fallow. The State Agricultural Plan for 2012-2017 offers these statistics

Land degradation in Uttarakhand has serious environmental implications. They can affect the whole of India and beyond. It is critical not to get the green cover of the area further depleted.


Hemp Farming Offers a Solution

Hemp is a natural crop of the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR). That is where Uttarakhand is located. Hemp is the non-narcotic variety of cannabis.

People in the hilly regions of the state have survived through cultivating hemp for generations. Before legality became an issue.

Hemp cultivation means restoring the traditional income-earning practice of the region. That is a preventive measure against forced out-migration. Hemp farming also means the effective utilization of traditional skills.

Hemp farming and small-scale agro-industries based on hemp present a sustainable plan for reviving the rural economy of Uttarakhand. Especially in the mountainous region.

A thriving economy offers freedom from hunger and starvation. There is no reason for people to leave their villages. It may even encourage reverse migration to populate the mountainous villages again.

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A Himalayan Blunder, Corrected

The pun is intended here, of course. It was, indeed, a Himalayan blunder to criminalize hemp cultivation. A blunder that threw the economy of the IHR into complete disarray. A traditional livelihood option got taken away. With no alternative income-earning plan in place.

The world woke up only recently to the immense costs of outlawing hemp. Identifying hemp as a narcotic was a mistake. Countries across the world started decriminalizing hemp farming recently. The government of India also followed suit.

Uttarakhand got permission in 2015 to resume hemp cultivation in the state. Under government supervision. It is necessary to have a license issued by the government for hemp farming.

It is legal to grow only industrial hemp that has 0.3% or less THC. Not the other variety of narcotic cannabis with 10% or more THC. Incidentally, both varieties of the plant are native to the IHR.

Uttarakhand’s mountain villages suffer from economic distress. The current global demand for hemp for its multifarious uses offers a feasible solution. Hemp farming and hemp-based agro-industries can arrest migration. It may even help reverse migration.


Hemp Foundation’s Commitments

Three friends felt disturbed by the growing abandonment of the state’s villages. Also by the plight of the people in its hilly villages.

They started an initiative to rejuvenate Uttarakhand’s rural economy. That is how the Hemp Foundation started.

Hemp Foundation has engaged farming families in its economic revival initiatives. It has adopted a cluster development approach. The aim is to free these families from poverty and hunger so that they don’t need to desert their villages in search of income.

It is a multi-dimensional initiative that works at different levels. Migration prevention is only one of them. Hemp Foundation pro-actively works towards promoting gender-just values. Through engaging women in income-earning programs.

We build awareness among the young to clear myths and misconceptions. About hemp. They have gathered these because of hemp’s illegal status. We prevent the loss of valuable traditional wisdom and expertise that way. About organic hemp farming.

We also build the capacity of farming families to embrace modern agricultural techniques. Also, about market functions in the contemporary globalized world.


Righting a Wrong

Many deserted and semi-deserted villages in Uttarakhand have witnessed people returning. Forced to return, actually, because of job losses due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

We can help them stay back permanently through our initiatives. When you buy from us, you help India’s border villages stay populated. You contribute towards reducing the country’s security risk.


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