Cutting-edge initiatives in Punjab

The government of Punjab has been in the news this week, unveiling cutting-edge efforts to boost the local economy and build knowledge capital in the state

The government announced a partnership with Bharati Wal-Mart, a national retail chain to set-up skill training center for youth [via PR Newswire]:

The Punjab government has tied up with Bharti Wal-Mart Pvt Ltd to set up ‘Bharti Wal-Mart Skill Centre’ in Amritsar, a vocational training institute for the unemployed youth of the state.

‘This skill centre will provide training to the youth to hone their technical skills regarding modern retail and allied sectors like logistics, supply chain and other support services

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Examining Organic Farming in India

In a series of articles on Slate.com, Mira Kamdar (of the World Policy Institute and author of Planet India) discusses the challenges and outlook for organic farming in India based on her visit to Punjab farms.  After an introduction to her visit and the history of the Green Revolution, Ms Kamdar delves into the reality of the matter, derived from the insights of farmers and academics.

In “The Organic Farmer,” Ms Kamdar focuses on why organic farming is beneficial, yet difficult. The involved labor itself presents employment opportunities, but government policies discourage the growth of organic farming:

Abundant cheap labor is one of the potential advantages India can bring to expanding organic agriculture. Picking off pests by hand, harvesting inter-cropped fields with a mix of plants ready at different times, eliminating weeds by frequent hoeing between tight rows, preparing soil with organic fertilizers, deploying micro-irrigation lines positioned to release water at the roots of each plant-these are all labor-intensive tasks.

But organic farming in India faces significant disincentives. Most government policies favor industrial agriculture, with heavy subsidies for India’s chemical-fertilizer and pesticide industries. The focus, understandable in a developing country, is on maximizing yields and boosting exports. The mindset of the Green Revolution is well-entrenched, despite the widely acknowledged social and environmental damage those practices have wrought and the knowledge that they are simply not sustainable.

According to a farmer in her article, seventy percent of Indian farmers are organic producers, since chemical farming is expensive. And although there is a huge export market, the fact that they aren’t certified (the articles point out that it takes three years to receive certification – a lengthy period for farmers) means that they are missing out on lucrative opportunities for profit. Continue reading

Thumbs up, thumbs down

A thoroughly inspiring story reminding us that the most important examples of innovation occur where we least expect them to.

Farmers who visit Amai Mahalinga Naik’s two-acre plot on the hilltop near Adyanadka in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka return spellbound. Irrigated farming at this height is very surprising. This 58-year-old illiterate farm labourer has developed this with his own labour. His hard work, vision and never-say-die attitude have turned around destiny in his favour.

You can read the entire article here.

On the other side, the state of Punjab must finally come to terms with its production focused approach to agriculture and how it has wreaked havoc on the once fertile ecosystem.

Punjab’s grand narrative, a success story of bumper harvests, conceals dangerous sub-plots of pesticide poisoning, water shortages, soil salinity, fertilizer runoff, skyrocketing cancer rates, farmer indebtedness and drug addiction.

The full article is here.