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How Crop Diversification acted as a Saviour for Farmers in Punjab

Plenty of others who are trapped in the conventional wheat and paddy cropping loop will be inspired by the great achievements of modern Punjabi farmers who went for crop diversification.

Chintu Das
Bell Pepper Farming
Bell Pepper Farming

Farmers from Punjab, most of whom are caught in the loop of wheat and paddy production, are spearheading an insurgency against new farm laws. Mandi and middlemen are at the heart of the agitation. Crop diversification, though, may be a long-term solution to the crisis, as shown by the success stories of radical growers. Farmers in the Malwa region have taken the lead in growing exotic crops such as dragon fruit, figs, strawberry, and bell pepper using novel cultivation methods.

Individuals from the Mansa district are making a difference by encouraging others, but they need government assistance to help sell their products and gain higher profits.

Famous Strawberries and Bell Pepper Cultivation:

During the early winters in Punjab's Malwa district, farms covered in poly sheets are a rare sight that piques interest. Farmers who grow strawberries and peppers use these sheets to cover the saplings at the start of the season to shield them from the cold. However, this would necessitate a significant expenditure. Farmers must order these specialized poly sheets all the way from Jaipur, which cost Rs 2,500 per quintal. On the state highway between Mansa and Bathinda, the village of Bhaini Bagha has gained popularity for its radical farmers who have taken up strawberry and pepper cultivation.

Farmers like Lakkha Singh has heavily invested into Bell Pepper Farming. He made Rs 60,000 per acre 2 years ago by selling directly to a customer who picked up the produce from his doorstep, earning him Rs 20,000 more than he did selling wheat.

"I had had enough of running around in mandis a couple of years ago, so I planted pepper instead of wheat on my 4 acres of property." I made a decent profit because all of my pepper was delivered right at my doorstep, and the customer paid quickly because there was no middleman,' he said.

"But there's a catch: if there's an oversupply, rates plummet, and we don't get a decent profit because we can't hang onto our harvest owing to a shortage of cold storage. We want the Government to set a base price for vegetables so that it becomes more lucrative and then more farmers will be encouraged to shun the wheat-paddy cycle and be able to diversify," he further added.

Young producers are also drawn to crop diversification. Strawberry farming is a passion for 32-year-old Jasbir Singh. On his tablet, he saw a video of a strawberry farmer in Himachal Pradesh, which inspired him to try the crop on his farm. He learned about strawberry farming from YouTube videos and experimented with the crop on only two acres of land last season.

This paid off handsomely, with his strawberries fetching a premium of Rs 350 per kg. He has leased another two acres of land and has doubled the strawberry crop area, buoyed by his success.

When asked about his performance, Mr. Singh clarified that strawberry saplings need extra care to shield them from frost during the winter months, and that once the fruit is mature, it must be sold right away because storage is a challenge. "This year, I plan to box my strawberries and have pre-ordered them in order to market my produce at a cheaper cost to the customers. It would be safer for farmers like me if the government assists us in selling these. The positive news is unlike wheat or paddy our strawberries are sold in the farm itself," Singh said.

Both Dragon Fruit and Fig are no more outsiders for Punjab:

Amandeep Singh of Bhadada village, saw his father and uncles struggling to sell their wheat and paddy in the mandis and was encouraged to pursue crop diversification. He met farmers growing dragon fruit, which is popular in North and South America, three years ago while on a trip to Gujarat with friends.

The plantation bears fruit for 25 years until it is ready, making it a long-term and stable investment to break the wheat-paddy loop. A dragon fruit tree produces 40 quintals of fruit per acre per year, which sell for Rs 200 per kilo, allowing a farmer to earn up to Rs 8 lakh per acre per year.

Amandeep sells his products directly to the public, without the use of any middlemen. When the harvest is ready, supermarket chains and merchants approach him directly to buy, and he is relieved of the responsibility of shipping the dragon fruit. He now plans to form his own marketing team and begin selling dragon fruits under his own brand name.

Extra Govt. emphasis should be placed for Crop Diversification:

Crop diversification has paid off handsomely for farmers who have implemented modern agricultural strategies. Regrettably, subsequent administrations have overlooked the advantages. Farmers cultivate wheat and paddy on nearly 60 lakh hectares of land in Punjab alone, and the centre purchases the food grains for PDS supply at a cost of nearly Rs 70,000 crores.

Against the odds, some forward-thinking Punjabi farmers are attempting to look past the paddy and wheat cycles. Crop diversification, on the other hand, has earned little attention over the years, with the central government providing a pittance of Rs 100 crore to farmers growing alternative crops.

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