Friday, February 9, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Agro-forestry — a way out of wheat-rice cycle
From A.S.Prashar
Tribune News Service

YAMUNANAGAR: A world famous progressive farmer who has developed one of the biggest and most productive farms in this part of the world has advised farmers in Punjab and Haryana to take to agro-forestry in a big way if they want to break out of the wheat-rice cycle which has now become the bane of agriculture in the two states.

“Agro-forestry will not only help them to get rid of wheat and rice which nobody seems to want in the country now but ensure a higher economic return besides providing gainful employment to a large staff and labour force,” says Mr Surinder Singh Hara who has set up a 100-acre farm at Amadalpur village, about 10 kms from here, on the banks of the Yamuna river.

His pioneering agro-forestry effort has now attracted worldwide attention. He is already producing 20 tons of timber per acre per year, which is regarded as the highest recorded anywhere in the world. He utilises the same farmland to produce turmeric, mangoes and a few other crops. In natural forests the world over (developing and developed countries), timber production ranges from one to four tons per acre per year. At his farm, he says, he used to mature a poplar tree in 10 to 12 years. Then he started maturing trees in eight to 10 years. His current crop of poplars is expected to mature in six to eight years.

“We define a mature as 100 cm girth at chest level and 100 ft tall, weighing one ton. At Hara farms, we are producing 20 tons of timber per acre per year. We now aim at 25 tons, possibly 30 tons of timber per acre per year”, says Mr Hara as he proudly surveys row upon row of tall, healthy poplar trees at his farm interspersed with turmeric, mangoes, litchi and a host of other plants and trees.

Mr Hara says although the governments of the two states have been asking the farmers to diversify agriculture, they have failed so far to identify the crops which the farmers can grow and get assured returns. “All crops require marketing infrastructure. Their produces, be it flowers, fruits, vegetables requires a whole lot of facilities including refrigerated transport, storage godowns, outlets, processing plants etc which simply do not exist at present”, he says.

On the other hand, timber does not require such a costly infrastructure. There is a worldwide shortage of timber. In India, there is an extreme shortage of wood. Haryana has just 3 per cent surface area under forestry whereas the UN says there should be at last 24 per cent for healthy human existence. India imported Rs 830 crore worth of timber in 1995. It is now importing about Rs 4000 crore worth of timber ever year. Therefore, the demand for timber in India is virtually inexhaustible.

His modest effort in agro-forestry began in 1981 at Hara farms and the nearby Kalsia farms. Farm forestry is now fairly extensive in northern India. Consequently, over 200 wood procession facilities have come up in the adjoining twin towns of Yamunanagar and Jagadhri. According to unofficial estimates, at least one crore rupees’ worth of timber is sold every day and Rs three crore worth of wood products including, plywood, wood board, crates, cardboard etc, is produced and processed every day from here. These twin towns have now become the biggest timber-processing town in the whole of India!

Mr Hara was born on March 6, 1927 in Lyallpur, Punjab,now in Pakistan, son of Sardar Bahadur Lal Singh and Sardarni Mohinder Kaur. He gradu ated in 1945 from Punjab Agriculture College, Lyallpur with a B.Sc in agriculture. Later in 1966-67, he had a faculty appointment at the University of California, Davis. He has studied agriculture, production in all the agriculturally important countries of the world, including Israel, the Netherlands, California and Japan. He has been an agriculture consultant and expert with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Rome, World Bank, Washington D.C. and Canadian International Development Agency, Ottawa.

Mr Hara says his worldwide experience after visiting over 60 countries of agricultural importance has two conclusions: There is no wasteland. There are lots of lands lying waste because their economic use has not been identified or are not being put into their optimum use.

For example, his farm is sandwiched between the Western Yamuna Canal and the Yamuna river. Some 25 acres used to get badly waterlogged, especially during the monsoon, reducing their productivity to near zero. “We have dug eight acres, four to eight feet deep and spread its soil in 16 acres. Now we have eight acres under fish production while bringing 16 acres to its full productivity. With high-tech fish production, we will soon reach four to five tons of fish per acre per year versus the normal production of one ton, and will then aim at producing eight to 10 tons of fish per acre per year” he asserts.

Everything that grows requires four essentials: a) irrigation, b) plant food, c) sunlight, and d) management. Management includes heavy investment, technology and hard work. At Hara farms he has plenty of water. Plant food is a combination of dairy and poultry manure and organic manure (fish, bone meal etc.). Chemical fertilisers of N.P.K. and micronutrients of zinc, copper, iron etc. are applied yearly.

Sunshine cannot be increased. So he optimized its use. For example, poplar trees are planted (alternatively with fruit trees) in rows north to south so that the sun’s natural movement pattern gives optimum sunshine. In between, he grows those crops that are either shade loving or shade tolerant. Turmeric (haldi) is one such crop of high value that is being grown extensively. Other crops being tried or planned are ginger and some pharmaceutical crops that love shade.

Mr Hara has been helped in his farming endeavour in no small measure by his Canadian-born wife, Valarie Hara, who is also a born farmer.

His philosophy in life is to do one’s best in one’s own life profession. Set one’s own standards of excellence and pursue perfection. Forget that others are not doing their duty, as sooner rather than later, people will notice and emulate you”.

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