The Punjab agriculture department has formed 185 new WhatsApp groups of its officials and farmers across the state to provide quick information, advisories and responses related to crop-related issues, keeping in mind the need to practice social distancing amid the pandemic. Thousands of farmers have already become part of these groups.
Data sourced from the Punjab agriculture department revealed that in the past couple of months 153 WhatsApp groups have been formed at the block level and 32 at district level groups. Around 20,000 farmers have already become members of these groups, including around 17,000 in block-level groups. Earlier, barely a handful of farmers were sharing such information via WhatsApp.
At block level, Mansa tops the list with 14 groups followed by Barnala with 13 groups (1,080 members) and Jalandhar with 12 groups (1,950 members), Ludhiana (2,528 members) and Pathankot (1,235 members) with 11 groups and three districts namely Faridkot (1,100 members), Gurdaspur (2,110 members) and Hoshiarpur (780 members) with 10 groups each.
Sangrur, Tarn Taran (570 members), and Bathinda (217 members) have nine, eight, and seven groups, respectively at block level followed by Ferozepur (100 members) with six groups. While five districts including Fatehgarh Sahib (410 members), Fazilka (1170 members), Kapurthala (380 members), Moga (158 members), and Nawanshahr (380 members) have five block-level groups each. Mukatsar (210 members) had four groups while Mohali (580 members).
Apart from this, there are around 2,000 members in the 32 district-level groups with only Sangrur accounts for six groups at the district level with 460 members.
Each group has agricultural experts as its members to guide the farmers.
A senior officer in the Punjab agriculture department said earlier they used to put up several farmers’ camps before the sowing of any crop and related to new techniques, new seed varieties, diversification, and several other issues but now it is not safe to hold such camps frequently and in such circumstances, WhatsApp groups are the best option to be in touch.
“Even farmers can share the photos of their crops in case of an attack of any disease and the experts will provide them an instant solution,” he said.
These groups is more beneficial as the Punjab agriculture department is working with half of its required staff due to a large number of vacancies.
“Even on our group ‘Target’, the farmers are sharing their latest experience about the DSR sowing technique and if there was any shortfall in adopting this technique they are correcting it, learning from each other’s experience and guidance from the experts,” said Manmohan Kalia, joint director, Punjab agriculture department, adding that after sowing is over, farmers will be cautioned against the adverse impact of burning of paddy straws in the fields.
For instance, in one such group, a farmer through a video has shown scanty parts of his DSR sowing field were filled by transplanting paddy seedlings.
Farmers are uploading photographs of crops — good yields as well as disease-ridden crops — to motivate and as well as get solutions. One such member of a group, farmer Nirmal Singh, had uploaded a photo of his paddy plant which was turning pale from the top, after which solutions started pouring in.
Farmer Sukhjeet Singh from Pathankot said that through these groups he is getting virtual advice from experts which saves a lot of time.
Farmer Jagdip Singh said, “These groups have really changed the perception of our younger generation towards farming and now they are showing keen interest in it.”
“Farmers are learning how precise farming should be done by avoiding overdose of fertilisers and pesticides and over-irrigation,” said another farmer member, Amarjit Singh.
“We have formed 185 WhatsApp groups of farmers and more will be formed. Due to lockdown there are travel limitations, we want to keep our farmers updated and these groups are where all the latest advisories related to weather conditions, usage of seed, precautions etc. are shared and farmers are also getting instant information about any problem they face,” said Director, Punjab agriculture department, Dr Sutantra Airi, adding that there are several experts from agriculture department and Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana, who are the members of each such group, and even information regarding seed treatment of crops and soil testing-based application of fertilisers is shared on these groups.
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