Eco-friendly path beckons

Ruchika M Khanna

AS Punjab’s agriculture would largely become unviable if the Minimum Support Price-based model for wheat and paddy were to be eventually dispensed with — as is now being feared — the agrarian state desperately needs to look beyond these climatically unsustainable crops and cropping practices, and take its farming to the next level.

The prolonged agitation against the contentious farm laws has prompted researchers, policy-makers and progressive farmers to focus on alternative models of agriculture which are environment-friendly.

Hartej Singh Mehta, a farmer from Mehta village in Bathinda, says he realised almost two decades ago how unsustainable the wheat-paddy cropping was. Since then, he has shifted to cultivating organic wheat, mustard and grams and desi varieties of roses, using only organic manure and as little as possible of natural resources. “Some farmers wrongly believe that the yields are less or there are no takers for organic produce. I cultivate the crops on 4.5-acre land, and am economically more self-sufficient than other farmers. In fact, the market for such organic produce is growing by leaps and bounds. We hold an organic food market in Bathinda twice a week, and there is a scramble to buy our produce,” he says.

Many progressive farmers agree that in the 1960s, when the government intervened to usher in the Green Revolution, they spent hundreds of crores of rupees on establishing this system, based on high-yielding variety of crops. Now that the country is self-sufficient in food production, it is the farmers’ own responsibility to look at crops and agricultural practices that do not drain natural resources.

Sanjeev Singh, referred to by locals in Tanda as the ‘Mushroom King of Punjab’, says the way forward in Punjab’s agriculture is to shift focus from increasing productivity to growing crops that do not deplete natural resources further. “We cultivate mushrooms in controlled conditions, using organic compost instead of chemical fertilisers. The water used in cultivation is not allowed to go waste, but collected and then re-circulated for farming operations. My annual turnover is almost Rs 1.25 crore,” he says.

Dr BS Dhillon, Vice Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, says the agenda for climate sustainability in agriculture was set a few years ago, but concretised during the Invest Punjab summit held last year. “Researchers in the biotechnology department of PAU have been working on creating stress-resistant varieties of crops like wheat, paddy, cotton and maize,” he says.

Umendra Dutt, executive director of Kheti Virasat Mission, an NGO that has been promoting organic and sustainable farming practices in Punjab, however, feels that much more needs to be done by both the government and research institutions to ensure a shift to sustainable agriculture. “We train farmers and build markets for their organic produce in various districts. Organically grown wheat is fetching farmers

Rs 4,000-5,000 per quintal. But a sustained campaign to promote these practices has to be put in place,” he says.

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