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July 26, 2010

'After ruining Punjab's agriculture; Punjab farmers now aim at Africa'

by Devinder Sharma

This is disturbing news. After doing the damage in Punjab, some farmers are now being encouraged to look for greener pastures in Africa. In the quest to make a fast buck, these farmers will now be doing to Africa what they did to what was once a fertile and verdant land of Punjab.

"Our state government and armchair experts at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) have failed us. Land holdings in the state has shrunk, water levels have depleted and fertility of soil has gone down," Jagjit Singh Hara of Kanganwal village in Jalandhar district has been quoted as saying in a centre-spreadout under the caption Punjab's African Plot.

I am so glad that Jagjit Singh Hara now realises that the PAU farm research and extension has failed Punjab farmers. But what is a little intriguing is that this should come from Jagjit Singh Hara who has been the showpiece of PAU and has also served on the Board of Directors of the university for quite some time. At no stage did he ever complain that PAU was not on the right path. In fact, he was more or less a spokesperson for all the faulty recommendations that he now cribs against. He enjoyed all the attention he got, and did everything wrong that PAU asked him to do.

This is my worry. The more enterprising of the farming lot, who are now eyeing the vast acreage of land available in Africa, are actually the real beneficiary of Green Revolution in Punjab. This lot comprise primarily the big farmers, who have taken advantage of all the subsidies, technologies, and promotional services that the PAU and the Department of Agriculture came up with. I remember visiting Jagjit Singh Hara's 90-acre farm in Kanganwal village a number of times at the peak of Green Revolution, and knew him as a proud representative of the new emerging breed of techno-savvy farmers riding the Green Revolution bandwagon.

If only these farmers had the long-term vision to ensure that their farms could remain sustainable; if only they had realised that intensive farming practices were suicidal in the long run; if only they had looked beyond making a fast buck; and gone in for farming practices that do not plunder the natural resource base things wouldn't have looked so bleak. They wouldn't have then left behind a trail of dying fields, and crying farmers. Punjab wouldn't be dying civilisation, as Dr Amar Singh Azad, often rues.

In a way, and I say this loudly, Punjab farmers are responsible for the ecological mess they have created. The better-off among them can surely migrate to Africa, leaving their poor cousins -- small and marginal farmers -- not only to clean-up the mess but also to live with it.

Let us not blame the PAU alone.

PAU has meanwhile embarked upon 2nd Green Revolution. It is stealthily aimed at forcing farmers to quit agriculture, and thereby make it easier for the agribusiness industry to takeover farming. Already, Bharti Telecom has made a foray. You will soon see the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) bringing in more and more industrial units to Punjab. PAU therefore is master-minding the strategy, in collaboration with several American universities and MNCs, to make it more painful for farmers to stay on the farms.

For Africa, the import of Punjab farmers is as disastrous as it is for India and other developing countries to invite Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in agriculture with open arms. G-20 has already made it mandatory for the member countries to open for what is called 'responsible' FDI in agriculture. India has been for quite some time engaged in facilitating the process, changing its laws in a quick succession, so as to make it easy for the FDI to step in and take roots.

I had expected the more enterprising of Punjab farmers to join hands and work towards bringing the lost glory back to Punjab's agriculture. I wanted these resourceful farmers (also well connected politically) to throw away the PAU cloak, and show the way forward where by the soil health could be restored, plunging groundwater line recharged, and farming adopting the low-external input sustainable pathway. But perhaps I was expecting too much.

It is now the turn of Africa. They are willingly inviting Punjab farmers to destroy their lands. They need to know that short-term gains do not help in building robust civilisations. These farmers will make the best use of opportunities available under AGRA to make a fast buck, and in turn leave Africa bleeding for ever. The African dream will sooner than later turn into a dying civilisation.

Devinder Sharma

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