Self-sustaining,rainfed and largely manual farming in the hills has never been easy. Though they have scripted success stories with off-season vegetables and apples,farmers in Himachal have always been looking for new technological innovations to catch up with their progressive counterparts in the plains.
While its neighbours Punjab and Haryana are far ahead in mechanisation of their farming operations,Himachal,due to its geographical conditions and small land holdings requiring low-cost tools,could not reap the benefits of mechanised farming till now.
But with the Himachal Pradesh State Cooperative Marketing and Consumers Federation (HIMFED),a government agency working for farmers,signing an agreement with Denmark-based firm Texas to import power tillers and a wide range of farming tools,mechanisation seems to be finally taking roots in the state.
In fact,the first consignment of around 200 power tillers has already arrived,after Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal,who also holds the Agriculture portfolio,watched a demonstration and recommended its launch in the state. He has agreed to work out a subsidy package for the farmers willing to go in for mechanised farming.
In just one month,we have sold 78 tillers of different powers. Our teams are touring the districts of Shimla,Solan,Sirmaur,Bilaspur and Mandi to motivate the farmers to buy new power tillers that are especially designed for the hills. In the next 10 to 12 days,the teams will cover Kangra,Hamirpur,Chamba and Una too. Since these machines are most suitable for use in our state where terrace farming is predominant,the farmers and orchardists have evinced keen interest in these and its sale is picking up with each passing day, says J M Pathania,Chief Executive Officer-cum-Managing Director of HIMFED.
Agriculture Director J C Rana admits that mechanisation of farming has become very important to keep pace with the scientific innovations. The draft policy paper on the 12th Plan also proposes a special mission to motivate farmers towards mechanisation. The land holdings in Himachal are shrinking very fast. The farmers cant afford to buy heavy machines like power tillers and tractors of 35 or 50 horse power. They need low-cost mini-machines at an affordable cost.
The cost of the power tillers supplied by Texas is in the range of Rs 36,000 to Rs 60,000.
Pathania,who had spent several years in Holland as part of a Government of India assignment,says: I have been working on a plan to replicate my Holland experience in the state with smaller-in-size and low-weight tillers used in the farm operations. The normal power tillers,earlier used here,weighed around 1.2 quintals but the light power tillers for hilly terrains weigh only 28 to 59 kg.
HIMFED is also working on a new scheme to provide a subsidy to the farmers on buying the range of new hand-driven power tools,as the previous scheme has a long drawn procedure to grant subsidy upto Rs 45,000 to the farmers buying power tillers or tractors.
The need for mechanisation is also felt due to tough terrain and scarcity of farm labour,the latter being more acute after the implementation of MNREGS in the state, says V C Pharka,Principal Secretary (Horticulture),who feels that power tillers could also be useful in the orchards.
HIMFED is also working on a tie-up with a Bangalore-based company for supply of VST Tillers and Captain Tractors (both heavy tillers and mini-tractors) for plain areas of the state.