Mahesh Patel of Laxmipura village in Banaskantha district of northern Gujarat has sown guar (cluster beans) on 10 acres this year,rather than the usual four or five acres. This is because the prices have been good for the last three or four years, he says.
Guar seeds have been fetching very good prices in the last three or four years due to a higher demand and comparatively low supply,motivating farmers to go for its cultivation, says N C Patel,vice chancellor of Junagadh Agriculture University.
The higher demand has seen over 4.36 lakh hectares in Gujarat sown under guar this kharif season so far,near twice last years 2.4 lakh hectares,according to figures with the state agriculture department. Gujarat produced 1.2 lakh tonnes in 2011-12,up from 0.46 lakh tonnes in 2009-10 and 0.70 in 2010-11. It is expected to go up to two lakh tonnes this year.
Farmers have been selling industrial-grade seeds at prices between Rs 85 and Rs 300 per kg over the last three or four years; these fetched in the region of Rs 50 earlier. Demand has shot up because the industrial-grade seeds are used in fluid mixtures that oil and gas companies use to blast natural gas out of shale rock. Ninety per cent of the industry-grade beans is being exported and the rest used locally in the textile,food,pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries,says Gujarat Rajya Guar Merchants Association president Mahendra Bhanushali. He says demand in the domestic and international markets has been increasing 10 to 12 per cent every year.
A senior official with ONGC says the demand will keep increasing steadily and prices will shoot up because of the discovery of huge blocks of shale rock with natural gas in China. The area under shale rock in China is so large that all the guar gum in the world would not be enough to meet the demand, says the official,who prefers not to be named. Alternative methods to split rocks,which companies will eventually have to fall back on,are not not as safe and cheap as using guar is,he says.
Farmers have also been encouraged by a good monsoon,for guar is a low-cost,short-duration crop grown in arid regions and depends only on the rains. Patel of Laxmipura says guar occupies the land for only 90 days when castor takes it for eight or nine months. Guar in any case costs Rs 150 per bigha to cultivate,says Rajkot-based seed trader and exporter Jadav Patel,who compares it with Rs 2,000 per bigha for groundnut.
Vice-chancellor N C Patel says its agriculture extension department has been receiving a lot of calls from farmers across the Kutch and Saurashtra regions for guidance on the type of seeds to use for a good yield. We gave them all information about seeds but also cautioned them against overproduction as that may result in the prices crashing, he says. But in many areas,farmers went ahead and sowed guar across their fields.
Guar is cultivated in the arid regions of Kutch,nothern Gujarat districts of Banaskantha,Patan,Mehsana,and Sabarkantha and Rajkot,Jamnagar and Surendranagar districts in the Saurashtra region. Agriculture department officials say the 4.36 lakh hectares breaks up into 1.12 lakh hectares in Kutch,2.22 lakh hectares in the north,82,000 hectares in Saurashtra and the rest in central Gujarat.
Guar hasnt gone into contract farming yet,says the merchants associations Bhanushali.