She grows the seeds of exotic vegetables and herbs which we buy at a handsome price to spice our pasta, soups and salads. The difference: the seeds of her broccoli, lettuce, bok choy and leek are very much Indian unlike the European varieties in the market.
Staying in Upper Tukcha, a village about a kilometre from Leh town in Ladakh, Ama (Mother) Dolma got into this business at age 58 when most people retire. Her seeds instantly became a hit with the foreign tourists.
“My seeds are kept in the local products’ shop of the Women’s Alliance, an NGO. Most foreigners like the seeds as they are organic,” she said.
Seeds in Ladakh are increasingly becoming a lucrative business, thanks to the region’s cold and dry climate. With a minimum investment of Rs 2,000, those like Ama Dolma are earning aboutRs 30,000 annually from seeds.
“Seeds, like that of leek for instance, are imported from Europe. They cannot be produced anywhere in India but Ladakh. Other seeds like beetroot, knol khol, celery and zucchini can also be easily grown in Ladakh because the region enjoys long daylight hours, which means high light intensity,” said Dorjay Anghcuk, a scientist at the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research in Leh.
“This, combined with very low humidity, makes Ladakh quite congenial for the production of seeds,” he said. “These also fetch a good price.”
Added Shashi Bala Singh, a former director of DIHAR: “Because of the weather, vegetables transform from vegetative to reproductive state, which is when they breed seeds. Also, their size grows bigger than normal. The flowers are also bigger and more in number, which means more seeds.”
Surprised tourists stop to buy the unusually fat zucchini and cauliflower (sometimes weighing more than two kg) in the Leh market where many a women sit selling their extraordinary stuff.
In one acre of her field, Ama Dolma has a treasure trove of parsley, celery, Swiss Chard, the German Knol khol, beetroot and zucchini apart from carrot, radish, cabbage, cauliflower, onion and a variety of spinach seeds which would be any chef's delight. All her seeds are certified by the National Seeds Corp of India.
Price of seeds
Lettuce: Rs 840 a kg
Knol khol: Rs 2,000 a kg
Onion: Rs 500 a kg
Radish: Rs 500 a kg
Mongol spinach: Rs 2,000 a kg