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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.
Last season, cotton did not earn more than Rs 3,500 per quintal, said Kuldeep Singh, a Maur Mandi farmer who has kept his land vacant for guar this year too.
Vikas had even paid a harvesting charge of Rs 700 per acre, said Harbhajan Singh, another farmer in the same area.
THE GUAR STORY
* Guar is in demand for its derivatives; a special gum is made from its seeds and used as coolant for drilling and also in thermal power stations.
* Guar gives back to the land on which it is grown instead of draining groundwater. Studies show it helps nitrogen growth in the soil.
* Nearly 80 per cent of the world's guar is grown in India and Pakistan.
* The crop is best grown in semi-arid zones and Rajasthan is the main producer, with Jodhpur being the main centre.
* Poor prices had forced Punjab farmers to stop growing guar until last year.