By Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Farmers in 80 villages of Chogawan block in Amritsar are planning to grow premium aromatic grain basmati over at least 8,000 acres without spraying pesticides and insecticides.
Located on the Indo-Pak border, Chogawan is popular for growing best quality grain.
The agriculture department and Punjab Agro-Industries Corporation is supporting the initiative as a pilot and will run an awareness campaign starting from Tuesday.
“We have chosen this area for its best quality premium grain so that the tradition continues,” said agriculture director Gurvinder Singh.
He added that a crop could not grow without use of pesticides, but the department always pushed for timely and minimum sprays for the crop to sustain.
The total basmati production in this area is expected to touch 1.5 lakh quintals, and basmati exporters association have decided to lift the entire produce from the area and market it in the best possible way. According to Singh, the corporation will also provide market support in stabilising the price.
Singh added that the state government had set a target to expand the area under the crop to 6 lakh hectares from last season’s 4.96 hectares.
“We are expecting the crop area to go beyond our target as the basmati growers are upbeat over last year price that touched ₹4,500 a quintal,” he said, hoping for an even better price this time, owing to rise in global demand.
He added that apart from this area, the department will also keep basmati-growing areas in districts Muktsar, Fazilka, Ferozepur, Tarn Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur under close watch.
“We are supporting the Chogawan pilot project to ensure its proper implementation on the ground and would like to ensure that the entire crop is lifted after laboratory test reports,” said Ashok Sethi, who is a director with the Basmati Exporters’ Association.
The basmati growers sell the aromatic grain in open market and big export houses dealing in global basmati trade buy the grain.
The rate offered on the grain depends on the international trade dynamics leading to fluctuations in the prices. Punjab contributes 40% of grain towards the ₹12,000-crore grain export from India.
It needs mention that consignments of aromatic grain were rejected by the European Union in 2016-17 as traces of agro-chemicals were found to be more than the permissible limits.
Subsequently, middle-eastern countries also tightened the norms. The exporters’ association has demanded a ban on 10 pesticides that pose hazard to the crop for three months.
Harwant Singh, a farmer from Kohala village that falls in Chogawan Block, said farmers here cultivated 80% area under basmati, and were quite selective about using agro-chemicals on their crop and aware of the banned molecules. “But sometimes the situation goes out of control when a pest strikes and to save the crop, the farmers are left with no option but to spray chemical.
“But even then, we only spray limited quantity, most suitable pesticides are chosen,” he added, demanding better facilities for sale of the produce, as the nearest mandi is in Amritsar, at least 15 km from Chogawan.
This article has been republished from The Hindustan Times.