The Punjab agriculture department is in the process of recruiting 500 scouts on contractual basis, who would keep a round-the-clock vigil on the cotton crop and report to the department in case of a pest attack.
If everything goes well the crop would fetch farmers about Rs 3,200 crore this season. Sowing of cotton crop would begin from April 1 and surprisingly for the forthcoming season, the department has projected an increase of one lakh hectares under cotton cultivation from last season’s 3.98 lakh hectares.
The department in the previous cotton season learnt the lesson the hard way as the whitefly pest attacked the crop, and the department was helpless in controlling and assessing magnitude of the attack. Due to utter mismanagement on the part of the agriculture department the hapless cotton farmers suffered 50% to 90% crop damage.
Scouts, being recruited for nine months of the cotton season from April to December, would get a monthly salary of Rs 4,000 and each scout will be in charge of two villages. “We are getting them trained from Punjab Agricultural University about the attack by different pests and weeds on cotton and would make it mandatory for them to be in the field during the crop season,” agriculture director Gurdial Singh told HT.
These scouts will be drawn from farmers’ families of cotton-growing districts of Mansa, Muktsar, Bathinda, Barnala and Faridkot, who have been involved in growing cotton. The agriculture department has approached the village panchayats to suggest people who could work as scouts.
“They may not have any formal education in agriculture but should have agriculture acumen, understand things and have a strong connect with the village besides being willing to work,” the agriculture director said, speaking on the requisites to be an agriculture scout, who would report to the agriculture development officer in the district.
For 10 scouts the department will recruit a supervisor--a BSc in agriculture--for the same period who would be paid Rs 15,000 per month. The special exercise would cost government Rs 2.2 crore. “I am sure the government would not mind spending this amount. It is far better than giving hundreds of crores in compensation otherwise,” the agriculture director said, adding that due to damage to cotton last season the government had paid a compensation of Rs 644 crore.
“Monitoring and surveillance are important for any crop to give good results. One of the important reasons for crop failure last season was the lack of monitoring,” Gurdial Singh said, adding that the department would ensure that spurious pesticides were not sold to the farmers and they got best-quality seeds.