The gamble of sowing Guar instead of paddy has paid off.
In many districts of the Malwa region, farmers' bank accounts have swelled, thanks to a private company, Vikas WSP, writing them advance cheques for Rs 40,000 for each acre of the crop. In April, the company had give seeds free-of-cost to farmers who now receive the postdated cheques to be cashed after they receive no-objection certificates (NOC) from the organisation.
Inactive monsoon and power shortage, on the other hand, have ruined the prospects of paddy farmers. The guar cultivators are glad they thought different.
Guar needs less water and grows with ease in sandy soil. It also requires less pesticides and fertilisers, and so the input cost is within control.
In spite of the 10-time increase in the price of guar from last year, the farmers in Mansa, Bathinda, and other districts sowed it in April in verbal contract with the private company from Rajasthan. With the seeds unavailable in the district, farmers brought its 365 variety from Haryana and Rajasthan.
The company also helped, and even farmers outside the contract bought the seed for between Rs 400 and Rs 500 a kilogram.
The agriculture department has counted about 5,000 hectares under guar in Mansa district, while in Bathinda, the area has jumped from 1,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares. "Farmers with less fertile soil have preferred to sow guar," said Paramjit Singh, chief agriculture officer (CAO) of Mansa. "In April, a private company had made the seeds available."
"The crop now needs rain to grow better," said Rajinder Singh, CAO of Bathinda. "We are unaware of the cheques given, but we hope the best for farmers."
"Our target was to cover 50,000 hectares in Haryana and Punjab, of which we covered 44,000 hectares in Punjab districts of Abohar, Fazilka, Mansa, Bathinda, Sangrur, and Patiala alone," said Sanjay Pareek, vice-president of Vikas WSP. "We gave farmers 2.5-kg guar seeds for each acre, and educated them about its farming, micronutrients (boron and zinc), and pesticides, which we made available free of cost."
Farmers will receive Rs 20,000 each in case of damage because of natural calamity and Rs 10,000 each, if the crop wilts even after 60 days.
The land in the rice-and-cotton belt and other districts is losing fertility after the Green Revolution, thanks to the overuse of pesticides and compulsive growing of cereals and paddy.
"Paddy isn't the crop of Punjab," said Pareek. "Its forced production has destroyed both farmers and the land."
"Farmers are happier with their guar produce and the cheques in advance," said Jasbir Singh, sarpanch of Mall Singh Wala in Mansa district. "I will handover the cheques to farmers who have contract with the company. The total money to be distributed is about Rs 10 crore for just four months of effort."