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Taking the initiative, instead of waiting for the state government to act on its plans for agricultural diversification, has paid rich dividends for farmers in the Malwa belt of Punjab.
Last summer, for the first time in more than 10 years, farmers in this region decided to grow the clusterbean guar in what has traditionally been a cotton belt.
The crop was sown in more than 40,000 hectares under contract farming in Bathinda, Faridkot, Muktsar and Fazilka districts and the farmers earned Rs 40,000 per acre when they harvested in November-December, double the earnings from cotton.
The idea was mooted by Vikas WSP, a private company in Ganganagar, which also promised the farmers an assured price of Rs 40,000 per acre. With the switch having paid off handsomely last year, a large number of farmers are waiting for a similar promise from Vikas as they want to move away from cotton, which is highly labour-intensive and involves spraying pesticides several times.
"Farmers opted for guar, but it was their personal agreement with the private company and they got good prices," said Dr Rajinder Singh Brar, Bathinda's chief agriculture officer.
"Guar is a desert crop and it was grown in areas where farmers otherwise were not able to do much. The area under cotton in our district reduced from 1.5 lakh hectare to 1.45 lakh hectare only. In fact, the barren land was used by farmers for this crop because it is a rain-fed crop which requires not more than one or two rainfalls in a season," Brar added.
While small farmers are known to have sold all their produce, landlords have kept some stocks hoping for higher prices as it is linked to the commodity market. The so-called "neglected crop" is priced at around Rs 11,500 per quintal at present and some farmers are waiting for it to rise to Rs 20,000. An acre of land produces 3-6 quintals of guar.
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