MS Swaminathan has rightly expressed his concern in the lead article ‘Not a grain to spare‘ in Hindustan times today.
“How can we achieve the desired growth rate in agricultural production? The growth rate in the production of cereals declined from 4.13 per cent in the period 1984-85 to 1994-95 to 1.09 per cent between 1994-95 and 2004-05. Annual growth rate in the agriculture sector as a whole declined from 3.69 per cent in the period 1990-96 to 1.65 per cent during 1996-2005. Net sown area, gross cropped area, fertiliser use and electricity consumption all declined. Growth rate of terms of trade for agriculture declined from 0.95 per cent per annum during 1990-96 to -1.63 percent during 1996-2005. In Punjab, even farmers with over 3.00 hectares are unable to earn an income comparable to that of a class IV employee of the Government of India. 84% of all the farmer households are the small and marginal ones. Fifty seven per cent of India’s total employment and 73 per cent of total rural employment come from farm sector. Farming in our country is the backbone of the livelihood security system for a majority of our population.”
How many of us know about the corporate farming that is going to come up sooner than expected in India? Punjab is taking the lead again. It will spread awareness and knowledge of the modern farming technologies and management practices too. This includes deploying latest technological equipments and upgrading the existing agricultural process. I only wish India remained more with organic products-fertilisers and insecticides to protect the crop from various insects and diseases and avoid what west do, blindly.
A visit to FieldFresh’s ‘Agricultural Centre of Excellence’ (ACE) in Ludhiana can tell what is going to come. It is a project of Bharti Enterprises (supported by the Rothschild) venture with Rothschild. One can see fields full of baby corns, chillies and bitter gourds; and meet technicians from South Africa and New Zealand who supervises and teaches local hands. Many a times it reminds me of the good days when Brishers and then Americans used to work in the automobile company to which I was attached.
Very soon all the good practices will be in place. Farmers across the country will gradually start following that to better manage, produce and also build an efficient cold-chain, which will allow consumers both in India and abroad access to good, fresh produce. Even smaller land holding as vendor to bigger farm can be viable
Very soon the work on the main processing unit will be complete. It will have four lines, capable of processing 16 tonnes of fresh produce every hour, once it starts functioning.
It’s a 300-acre facility. The company has already set up a temporary small processing unit to manage the baby corn crop in one side. In this sanitised unit, some 100 women are working in a production line, opening, cleaning, and cutting, sorting and packing baby corn for both the domestic market and for export.
A row of greenhouses is under construction. One can look into a couple of functional enclosures. The first one is growing cherry tomatoes, and it seems that farmers have taken soil out of the equation altogether by growing the vines out of ‘grow bags’-polythene bags packed with a growing medium, primarily coconut husk, with three plants growing out of each bag. The bags are fed with an Israeli-designed micro-irrigation system and in turn feed water and fertiliser to each plant.
Cherry tomatoes offer excellent return. While setting up a covered greenhouse and micro-irrigation system can cost up to Rs 15 lakh an acre; the return in a year can reach Rs 40 lakh. Returns are better if farmers invest in coloured capsicums. ACE is growing that in the adjoining greenhouse.
Technicians at ACE are developing crops that can be grown in other parts of the country-Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan-where FieldFresh is setting up shop. The company has even taken up cold storage at Amritsar airport so that it can export the produce fast. It could take only a day to get produce from the field to a shelf 5,000 km away.
This provides a glimpse of new farming that India will resort too to make the farmers as prosperous as those in West. However, will the corporate farming provide the answer to all the difficulties of Indian farmers that MS Swaminathan mentions in his article?