Wheat zone goes bananas
A New leaf A 10-acre experiment in lucrative banana cultivation has kindled a new phase in Punjab’s agriculture. Vishal Rambani reports.Updated: Nov 06, 2009, 22:10 IST
From the heartland of the Green Revolution comes a new evolution. The granary state of Punjab known for its prosperous wheat farmers is set to transform into a banana state, after the unqualified success of a small experiment with the fruit.
A state which consumes Rs 600 cr worth of bananas a year — among the highest in the country — most of it brought in from Gujarat and Maharashtra, Punjab is set to meet almost half its demand with local produce of the king-size Grand Nainy-G9 variety. And local folks say the stuff tastes better as well.
The banana trial started two years ago on a small 10-acre patch of land. The very first crop, says Mewa Singh, a Ludhiana farmer, gave a net profit of Rs 1,50,000 per acre, dramatically lucrative for farm investors. Officials say the average profit per acre for wheat and paddy is no more than Rs 30,000.
Today, Singh is busy handling 2 or 3 enquiries every day about the viability of the crop. He has also become the president of the nascent Banana Growers’ Association.
Punjab rode to riches on the back of high-yielding varieties of wheat which helped the state’s hardy farmers, but that is linked to procurement prices supported by the government. New crops like bananas can suddenly alter this landscape.
The profit margin of Rs 1,10,000 to 1,50,000 per acre has attracted more farmers, and land under banana crop was 300 acres last year. It is set to grow to 500 acres by February, 2010.
Said B.S. Chahal, a consultant with the Punjab State Farmer Commission, which is promoting the crop: “We have been flooded
with queries from farmers. Around 196,000 tissue culture plants were sold in the August-September season, the best time to grow this crop. The demand didn't stop, but we stopped supplying the plants because the season was over and we didn't want people to see failure.”
Most of central Punjab has been found suitable to grow the G9 banana. Chahal said Ludhiana, Ferozepur, Muktsar, Barnala, Sangrur, Moga and Fathegarh Sahib areas had been found suitable, but he added that Amritsar, Gurdaspur were not recommended because of their frost-prone weather while Bathinda did not have suitable soil.
Big companies in the food business are also sitting up and taking note. The Godrej group and Bharti’s FieldFresh have started growing bananas on their own or have tied up with local farmers to avoid the cost of transporting the fruit from Gujarat and Maharashtra.
Vikram Singh, a manager with FieldFresh, said: “As the Punjab banana is better than that from Gujarat and UP, we are tying up with farmers here to get a direct supply. We ripen it without chemicals, using modern technology, and then sell it at a premium.”
FieldFresh CEO Sanjay Nandrajog explained, “We improve the marketability of a farmer's produce by offering them a specific price for the desired quality.”
The company gives technical inputs to the farmers through the entire crop cycle, he said, adding, “A farmer is not bound to sell his produce (to us) despite taking our suggestions."
A banana farmer gets a premium of up to 10 per cent in selling his produce to FieldFresh, claimed Nandrajog.
Bharti Wal-Mart, another big retailer, said it has launched a pilot programme with 65 farmers chosen on their willingness to adopt better farming practices.
(Additional reporting by Vivek Sinha, Delhi)