Punjab’s farmers are exporting vegetables with a GlobalGap certification, a declaration of better produce and a promise of higher profit.
The certificate is an acknowledgment of a good agricultural technique and has so far been given to four to five Punjab farmers, with some other aspirants in queue.
To get the brand name for their vegetables, farmers need to maintain hygiene standards for labourers, adopt specified agriculture methods, and ensure an annual audit is conducted by the company.
Retired IAS officer Karamvir Singh Sidhu is among those who has set the example. He has been exporting snow peas, sugar snaps and lady’s fingers to Australia, the UK and the Netherlands with the GlobalGap certification. This summer, he will export okra for the first time to Japan.
Sidhu, who has been farming since 2001 when he was still serving in Punjab, is now a wholetime progressive farmer at Lalgarh village in Patiala, having retired in 2012. Apart from farming on his 100 acres land, he also stocks up exotic vegetables collected from farmers of nearby areas and which he then exports. “I export exotic vegetables and had a turnover of about Rs 1.25 crore about five years ago. This year I am confident I will cross the Rs 5 crore mark,” says Sidhu.
Sidhu’s products are exported by Patiala Horticulture Private Ltd, of which he is the CEO. “As of now we have branded our peas Patiala Peas, while we are yet to brand our other vegetables. We maintain the books and use chemicals as per instructions of the company,” he says.
Some Namdhari farmers and a group of potato farmers in Jalandhar, too, have the GlobaGap certification.
A group of farmers from Mushkabad village in Ludhiana district is in the process of getting the certificate and they plan to export lady’s fingers and snow peas from next year. Davinder Singh, one of these farmers, says they are growing exotic vegetables which have seen a growth in demand not only in the domestic market but also abroad. The farmers do the grading and packing before sending the vegetables out in the market with the brand name Quality Veg Produce.
Meharbaan Singh, Sikander Singh and Lakhwinder Singh are in the same group growing vegetables. At the moment they are growing coloured capsicum, cucumber, green chillies in polyhouses, and they also engage in open farming of seasonal vegetables.
Davinder was honoured recently at a function organised by PAU Farmers’ Club for earning Rs 7 lakh per acre from his farm.
“We need to pick the vegetables from the fields 10 days before sending them out in the market in order to minimise chemical residue effects. These are the standards demanded by the companies that seek vegetables from us for export,” says Davinder. With the growing demand, even domestic buyers are seeking quality vegetables, he says. This has made certified vegetables or branded products a trend.
To encourage diversification, Punjab Energy Development Authority has a project of five pack houses, each built at Rs 1.08 crore, with two of these in Patiala and one each in Ludhiana, Hoshairpur and Gurdaspur. The power connections from Punjab State Electricity Power Corporation Ltd are, however, commercial ones while farmers are demanding connections under a special agriculture policy that would mean the tariff being slashed 30 per cent and the exemption of a minimum monthly charge. The pack houses have been given on lease to farmer societies for 20 years at Rs 20,000 per year. Says K S Pannu, secretary for agriculture, “We have taken up the matter with PSPCL so that the farmers can get agriculture connections instead of commercial connections.”
Though farmers grow exotic vegetables for export as well as for the domestic market after maintaining the required standards, they get subsidies from PEDA and Punjab Agro for freight, packaging and getting an annual audit done from companies. Only farmers who maintain their books regularly and send monthly information to PEDA or Punjab Agro qualify for both central and state subsidies.