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Seeds of modernisation

Print edition : Jan 13, 2006

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The Birdhwal headworks at Suratgarh from where water is released for irrigation to areas coming under the first phase of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project.-R.V. MOORTHY

The Birdhwal headworks at Suratgarh from where water is released for irrigation to areas coming under the first phase of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project.-R.V. MOORTHY

The Rajasthan government aims to take agriculture beyond traditional crops and practices by diversifying farming activities and improving marketing strategies.

RAJASTHAN'S economy is mainly based on a combination of agro-based and livestock-oriented activities. Agriculture has remained its mainstay (80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas) although traditional business communities have pursued their own interests and new industrial groups are gaining a foothold.

Rajasthan's agrarian landscape is varied. Apart from food crops such as wheat, rice and bajra, fodder crops are also grown. If previously coarse cereals such as bajra and jowar were the predominant crops in the cultivated areas, now there are areas under basmati rice and soyabean as well. It is a little-known fact that the State is one of the leading producers of cumin seeds or jeera, a favourite and an essential spice in Indian cuisine. Jalore, known for its granite mining, is equally famous for jeera cultivation. Rajasthan leads in the cultivation of gowar bean, moth bean and coriander. Nearly 80 per cent of the gowar produced in the country comes from Rajasthan and the State ranks first in moth bean production. The total area covered under these crops is close to four lakh hectares and it is estimated that four million families depend on them for their livelihood. Isabgol or flea husk and methi or fenugreek are important medicinal and spice crops grown in Rajasthan. The average area sown during the past five years under isabgol was 88,000 ha and the average production was 60,000 tonnes. Similarly, the average area sown under methi was 470,000 ha and the average production 54,000 tonnes. The State government now wants the Central government to declare a minimum support price for some of these crops.

The State government plans to establish 15 commodity-specific mandis or granaries and develop agricultural export zones and agro-food parks. It also proposes to encourage contract farming in selected areas, enhance rural credit flow to farmers and intervene directly in the market through crop and weather insurance schemes. A State bio-fuel mission has been established with the objective of exploring alternative sources of diesel by promoting the cultivation of multi-purpose crops such as Jatropha curas, karanj (Pongamia pinnata) and castor and other medicinal plants. The mission also envisages providing land to raise nurseries and plantations and arranging the supply of quality seeds/saplings for plantation, ensuring farmers' access to markets and providing research and development facilities and financial support to set up plantations and oil extraction plants. A new agricultural policy was announced in 2004. Some 75,000 new tubewell connections were given and a decision was taken to dispose of in three years cases that had been pending for the past 12 years. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government claims credit for the higher number of connections provided during its tenure compared to the 15,000-20,000 connections given by the previous government.

The Indira Gandhi Canal or the Rajasthan Canal irrigates the arid western districts of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. Ganganagar district is irrigated with water from the Ganga Canal. The State government provided Rs.5.53 crores for cleaning the irrigation canals in the tail end of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project (IGNP) area. Perhaps having learnt its lessons from the recent farmers' agitation, the State government has decided to take a serious look at agrarian issues. For the first time, a sum of Rs.42 crores has been allocated for canal maintenance. An intake structure costing Rs.10 crores has been created at the Indira Gandhi RD 629 (a part of the canal-irrigated area), which will utilise 10,000 cusecs of water from the Ghaggar river. Under drought relief work, construction of canals was undertaken in the irrigated areas of Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, Bikaner and Jaisalmer districts.

Keeping in mind the vagaries of nature and the frequency of drought conditions in the State - as of now 22 of the 32 districts are under a spell of drought - and as part of its policy to provide insurance cover for agriculturists, the government has started an Agriculturist Life Welfare Planning Scheme. As for crop insurance, 14 crops were insured in 2004-05. Claims submitted by farmers during the 2004 kharif season were settled, and the Rs.133.04 crores disbursed thus benefited more than three lakh farmers. For the Rabi crop, eight crops were insured and an amount of Rs.10.27 crores was claimed in 2004-05. For the first time, crops such as coriander and orange were insured. Agricultural call centres were set up to give free advice to farmers. Agriculturists from various parts of the State were trained and exhibitions were organised to display aswagandha, saonamukhi, white musli, tulsi, kalmegh, isabgol and henna crops.

The government has increased its budget for agriculture sixfold. As a result of a combination of efforts and a-not-so-dry year, the production of mustard in 2004-05 touched a record high of 38.58 lakh tonnes; groundnut production also remained high at 4.47 lakh tonnes, and cotton production, despite the farmers' unrest in the major cotton producing belt of Ganganagar, is also expected to touch a record 11.24 lakh bales. The government has launched special measures to step up production in various parts of the State. For instance, if it is mustard in Bharatpur and Nagaur, it is jowar in Jaipur and Sikar.

There are plans to create infrastructure and R&D facilities for agriculture. Two new seed laboratories are planned to be set up in Alwar and Jodhpur. Similarly, two pesticide-testing facilities, in Jodhpur and Kota, and two tissue culture laboratories, in Jhalawar and Ganganagar, are on the cards. Twelve soil-testing laboratories are being set up in Baran, Dholpur, Karouli, Churu, Jhunjhunu, Jalore, Hanumangarh, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Rajsamand, Dausa and Boondi districts.

For the first time, a national gardening mission has been launched in 13 districts of the State - Jaipur, Ajmer, Alwar, Chittor, Kota, Baran, Jhalawar, Jodhpur, Pali, Jalore, Barmer, Nagaur and Ganganagar. Under this, Rs.14.50 lakhs has been provided for the development of 16 government and private nurseries.

Overall, there have been some significant interventions in agriculture. Special mandis such as the garlic mandi in Badoud, the coriander mandi at Ramganj, the jeera mandi at Bhinmal, the henna mandi at Sojat and the fruit mandi at Pushkar in Ajmer district have been set up. For the development of the mandis it has become imperative to develop roads. Under the Missing Link Project, nearly 826 km of road has been laid with an investment of Rs.73.87 crores in 10 districts. Repair work was done on 2,946 km by investing Rs.84.42 crores.

It is clear that the State government wants to move beyond traditional agriculture. Commercial fruit farming and development of granaries for cash crops are indicative of the government's move not only to diversify agricultural production but also to develop marketing strategies.

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