Banana pays but Punjab not growing enough

Banana growers in Punjab claim to be profiting heavily from the relatively new crop, but its one-crop-a-year pattern has prevented it from really catching on. Punjab consumes bananas worth Rs 600 crore every year but produces about one per cent on its own six years after its farmers first diversified towards this crop.

Farmers who had taken to banana in 2007 claim to be earning Rs 2.5 lakh per acre after selling directly to consumers. Two farmers, Sushil Kumar Malhotra and Mewa Singh Kular, respectively vice-president and president of Banana Growers' Association, claim that the profits of some 60 farmers in Ludhiana attracted even businessmen, who they say have taken to growing bananas on vacant land in their farmhouses.

Malhotra and Kular grow the fruit on their 3.5-acre farm in Kular village. "Banana farming in Punjab began in 2007 on about 15 acres of land; last year 350 acres came under banana cultivation. In Ludhiana alone, around 60 farmers have started growing bananas on about two acres each," Kular says.

"At least 10 businessmen have grown this crop on their vacant land, encouraged by farmers' income. Their land was lying vacant in the villages, and we guided them to grow this fruit. Until they resume construction work, the crop has been giving them a good income. But they are not entitled to any subsidies being offered by the National Horticulture Mission. That is only for the farmers," Kular adds.

"Punjab Agriculture University advises us to sow the crop in February so that it can be ready by December end," he says. "But looking at the changing weather conditions, we have started sowing it in August and September end so that the crop can be ready before the festive season and we can get good prices. We have a ripening chamber installed at Kular village, and farmers sell to fruit sellers directly."

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