Jarnail Singh,a farmer based in Bhurekalan runs his nursery to sell vegetable seed. A recipient of many state and national awards,Jarnail had diversified from paddy-wheat cycle to nursery in 2000 and had since then motivated nearly 3,000 farmers of the region to grow vegetables.
Working in tandem with him was Amarjeet Singh,another vegetable grower in the same village and also an award winner. Both had been telling farmers that diversification could yield good results. But they could not convince the farmers this year.
Not more than 1,700 farmers took seed from me this year. I can still bear this loss,because I have been in this line for the last many years,but the new farmers cannot, says Jarnail.
Since February 2011,the all-time low prices of the produce have forced the farmers to reduce their area under vegetables. Last year has been the worst year since I started farming. While we sold our produce for almost free,the same vegetable were available at high prices in the market. The new farmers could not bear that loss. Many of whom we had convinced to diversify have quit vegetable farming, adds Amarjeet.
Chilli,which was sold at about Rs 28-30 a kg in 2010,fetched as low as Rs 3-6 a kg for farmers,while bitter gourd could not be sold for more than Rs 3 a kg against Rs 7-9 a kg in 2010.
Amarjeet says: I had to sell my capsicum produce at Re 1 a kg last year while in 2010 it was sold for Rs 7-10 a kg. Cucumber and tomato too fetched only Re 1 a kg against the previous years Rs 5-6 a kg. Potato was sold for Re 1 a kg last year,while it was available almost for free this year. Farmers are disheartened that the middlemen are eating up the most of the profits. Many of them have reduced the area under vegetables.
Swarn Singh of Saidan Rahela village,who had grown vegetables on 7 acres last year,is back to wheat farming,while Beant Singh of Dode village and Milkha Singh of Tarasinghwala too have stopped growing vegetables altogether.
Jarnail says: I sold my potato produce for Rs 2 a kg to a wholesaler and the same stock was sold in my village for Rs 10 a kg in the evening. There is a big disparity in the prices. Farmers are not able to market their produce on their own. With this trend,area under vegetables will reduce further.
Amarjeet,however,is known in the region for his innovative ways of growing vegetables. Initially,he was earning about Rs 30,000 per acre from vegetables,which gradually increased to Rs 3 lakh per acre. In 2010,he got the highest yield award for his chilli and bitter gourd yield. I have earned good income from this farming,so I can bear some losses. If the prices don’t go up this year,many more farmers will stop growing vegetables.
Farmers want the government to help them open direct selling points so that they can also earn a reasonable profit. They also want the state to inform them well in time that about reducing or increasing the area under a particular vegetable on annual basis.
The government,on the other hand,blames the low prices on glut. We often guide farmers not to grow particular vegetables in excess,but they rarely agree to us, says Horticulture Director Dr Lajwinder Singh.
He adds: We have heard that many farmers did not grow vegetables this year,but a few others have started too. The exact data of area under vegetables is yet to be compiled. We guide farmers to grow vegetables under protected environment by forming polyhouses. The fall in prices of vegetables was because polyhouse variety was far better than the vegetables grown in the open.