When Harinder Singh of Bhamri village in Kadian block of Gurdaspur district graduated in 2008, his family wanted him to take up postgraduation and go abroad to improve his prospects. Harinder, however, had other ideas – he insisted that he would stay on in the village and follow the family occupation of farming. His family argued that their five acres of land would not be able to sustain him, especially at a time when argricultural yield was falling and farmers were leaving for other occupations.
Six years later, Harinder has been proved right. In this period he has earned around Rs 30 lakh and is an example to others in the field. His secret, he says, is “agriculture and subsidiary occupations” that have raised his income far beyond what traditional agriculture would have earned from his small land. “I began with traditional farming on our five acres in 2008 , started attending every camp and Kisan Mela being organised by Punjab Agriculture department and Punjab Agriculture University, and collected knowledge about modern farming techniques as well as subsidiary occupation with agriculture,” said Harinder.
Not that the fears of Harinder’s family were baseless. According to experts, Indian agriculture employs 60 per cent of the population but its contribution to GDP is a mere 14 per cent. In coming years, only an estimated 40 per cent people will remain in agriculture owing to crises in the field and diminishing income, said Kulwant Singh Ahluwalia, a member of the PAU board of management, himself an agriculture expert and progressive farmer, at a Kisan Mela held recently. Around 61 per cent of farmers who participated in a survey said they would readily quit farming should they get alternative jobs in urban areas. Farming, according to them, has become a problem of high production cost and low income — with very little promise of change.
In this scenario, the role of progressive farmers such as Harinder becomes crucial. Their success not only defies the prevalent beliefs but also proves that supplementing traditional agricultural practices with auxiliary or subsidiary occupations is sustainable and yields higher returns.
The Punjab government and PAU are stressing this and have made “subsidiary occupations” the theme of Kisan Melas. Subsidiary occupations involve dairy farming, fishery, beekeeping, custom hiring on farm implements and piggery among others, and training programmes for these are conducted through Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) throughout the state.
Harinder, for instance, operated a custom hiring centre for farm implements. “I created a shed on a small portion of my land, purchased farm machinery for Rs 10 lakh to Rs 3.30 lakh from state subsidy and the remaining as loan from a bank on soft terms — and started giving out farm implements such as tractor, laser leveller, rotavator and spray pump on rent to farmers who could not afford high-end agricultural machinery and equipment,” said Harinder. He earned Rs 6 lakh in the very first year besides his regular earnings from traditional agriculture. “I rent out a tractor-laser leveller at Rs 600 per hour, and rotavator and multi-bed planter at Rs 1,000 per acre,” he said. He repaid his loan with a year.
“To raise income from agriculture and horticulture crops, farm machinery is the need of hour of every farmer. Farm mechanisation through upgrade of technology saves around 15 per cent seed, and 30 per cent water and fertiliser each and increases the yield,” said Dr Amrik Singh, agriculture development officer, Gurdaspur.
Another farmer from Gurdaspur, Maninder Singh, whose family owns four acres, said this is insufficient for a livelihood from the traditional crop cycle of wheat and paddy. Maninder proudly said he earns Rs 8 to 9 lakh annually by adopting subsidiary occupations. “I farm on three acres and on one acre, I have created a fish pond for fishery, a 3,000 sq ft poultry shed to keep 3,000 birds and a shed for 10 cattle heads including a buffalo and cows,” he said. Another farmer, Madan Gopal, owns 2.5 acres and has set up a processing unit for turmeric powder and a cattle shed for 10 animals, besides sowing organic vegetables and pulses. “I earned around Rs 7 lakh from turmeric cultivation when the rate was good and, at present, earn Rs 2.5 to 3.0 lakh per acre from it,” he said.
Surinder Singh, a foreign-returned farmer, runs a piggery in Paprali village in Ropar district, besides traditional farming. In four years, his small unit of 20 piglets and 20 adult pigs has expanded to 500 ready-to-sell pigs and more than a hundred for breeding. “One can start earning within five to six months as sows deliver piglets twice a year. A sow can deliver 10 to 12 piglets at once. Also, an adult pig of 10 to 11 months is sold between Rs 35,000 and Rs 40,000,” he said. State director for animal husbandry Dr Harjinderjit Singh Sandha said they were providing subsidy for this venture and there is a a huge demand for pig meat.
Discussing the role of subsidiary occupations in enhancing agri-based income, Dr M S Gill, director for extension education, PAU, said it is the need of the hour and the university has been providing farmers with the latest technology through its various KVKs.