Years ago, the Shiromani Akali Dal, when in power, would be accused of its pro-rural bias but now it is this very image that Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and the party are living upto by initiating a slew of measures to save the very farmer and the farm sector in the state that have turned sick while feeding the hungry millions across the country and providing food security to the nation. Any cost benefit analysis would be found heavily skewed against the cultivator in this agriculturally the most advanced state, perhaps the only one where production has increased even when the entire country including Punjab suffered drought. Drought has a different meaning here.
When talking of increasing incidence of farmers’ suicides, one would have to go into the root cause to find a permanent solution as it is increasing debt that is driving marginal and small farmers to take this extreme step.
As part of the immediate relief from debt, Badal has set up a ministerial committee including Food and Supplies Minister Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, Industries Minister Madan Mohan Mittal and Agriculture Minister Tota Singh to go into the proposed bill to be adopted in the forthcoming budget session of the Assembly to provide debt relief to the farmers. It is the non-institutional loan raised by the farmers that creates more problems for the farmers in view of the high interest rate but then it is easily available. However, this system of private money lender is highly exploitative and the committee would suggest improvements in the draft bill to end such anti-farmer practices.
However, it is the farm practices in entirety that need holistic approach so that after this relief, the farmer is saved from falling into the same trap again.
The decision taken by the Chief Minister to procure latest infrastructure and equipment for cultivators in the state to ensure disease free high yield of fruits and vegetables is one of the steps in this direction. This decision is based upon the recommendations made by Punjab State farmers’ Commission.
Under this project, the state government would import 50 Electrostatic Knapsack Spray Pumps (EKSP) to effectively combat the problem of Under Surface Pest as the conventional spray pumps are not at all effective in such situation. The experts recommended EKSPs for other crops after their huge success in the case of citrus. They also suggested establishing pre-cooling units and cold stores in citrus estates so that the farmers could store their crops and fruits to earn more profits and also pleaded to have separate vegetables sections also in cold stores.
Yet another thrust area is going to be the processing of produce, both fruits as well as vegetables.
The decision to honor progressive farmers under ‘Scheme for Recognition and Awards to Persons Engaged in Agriculture and Allied Sectors’ with cash prize of Rs. 3 lac, Rs. 2 lac and Rs.1 lac respectively from each category on the basis of selection by the six member committee headed by Chairman, Punjab State Farmer’s Commission Dr. G.S. Kalkat is yet another initiative. This is being launched from April next. It may be mentioned that several small farmers have done experiments at diversification and are now earning good profits as against cultivation of conventional crops like wheat and paddy.
The selection committee has been mandated to give its recommendations by April every year and a function to honour these farmers, would be organized in the window of time available between harvesting of Khariff and sowing of Rabbi season, who had immensely contributed for developing innovative farm practices, thereby drifting from the traditional agriculture for the promotion of farm diversification. These farmers would be honored with a cash prize and a ‘Letter of Commendation’ by the state government with an objective to showcase them as role models for the other farmers especially the young ones to reap maximum benefits from their vast experience and innovative expertise. The success stories of these innovative farmers would be widely publicized at government, non-government and media so that these could be replicated by the young farmers to make agriculture far more economic viable and self-sustainable profession.
This scheme would also include dairy farmers.
Punjab farmer has to live with dignity.