AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE
 

Heavy-footed Markfed fails to keep pace with times
Manoj Kumar

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HE Punjab State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Limited (Markfed), which claims to be Asiaís largest cooperative organisation, has failed to exploit its potential because of unprofessional management and interference of the state government in its day-to-day functioning.

Cactus has potential in the Shivaliks
B.S. Dilta and S.D. Badiyala

T
HE growing of xerophytic crops, which require very little water, particularly cacti, is a viable option in the harsh conditions of the Shivalik hills. The foothills of Himachal Pradesh, comprising Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Una and parts of Chamba, Kangra, Sirmaur and Solan districts, are the Shivalik ranges of the Himalayas, which go up to an elevation of 914 m above mean sea level.

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Heavy-footed Markfed fails to keep pace with times
Manoj Kumar

Markfed has been reduced to a mere procurement agency.
Markfed has been reduced to a
mere procurement agency.

THE Punjab State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Limited (Markfed), which claims to be Asiaís largest cooperative organisation, has failed to exploit its potential because of unprofessional management and interference of the state government in its day-to-day functioning. Instead of playing a significant role in the modernisation of Punjab agriculture according to its mandate, it has confined its activities to the procurement of foodgrains and sale of agricultural inputs.

The management claims that with an annual turnover of over Rs 11,000 crore, it has played a significant role in Punjab agriculture during the past five decades. However, agriculture experts and farmer representatives feel that despite the inherent advantage of the Green Revolution and enterprising spirit of the farmers in the state, the potential of the organisation has not been fully tapped. They wonder whether this mammoth would be able to survive if the support from the Centre to its foodgrain procurement business was withdrawn and it had to compete with the private sector in the changed economic scenario.

Hardly a cooperative

Prof P.S. Rangi, Senior Economist (Marketing), Department of Economics and Sociology, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, who has done a comprehensive study on the "Role of Agricultural Development" says, "It has failed to emerge as a true farmerís cooperative institution that could have played a significant role in the modernisation of rural economy by taking initiatives in the agriculture sector. Besides marketing farm produce at a premium, it should have facilitated promotion of food-processing of perishable agriculture commodities like vegetables and fruits."

Admitting that Markfed has done good work in the supply of fertiliser and pesticides in rural Punjab, he feels that it has deviated from its original mandate of promoting food processing of perishable commodities, R&D and strengthening primary cooperative societies. He wonders how Punjab Agro with negligible funds could support food processing and contract farming in the state. The fate of potato, kinnow and other perishable crops from in several years should be a warning signal to this organisation.

A monolith

On his part, Mr S.S.Channy, Markfed MD, says, "We are involved in the procurement of wheat, rice and cotton, apart from developing agri-export zones for potato and basmati rice under the crop diversification plan. Our annual business volume has already crossed the Rs 10,000 crore mark in 2002-03 with a profit of Rs 12.52 crore. This year we are expecting to close our account with over Rs 12,000 crore."

He claims that under the diversification plan, Markfed is providing subsidy of Rs 250 per quintal on potato and Rs 1,000 per quintal for potato exports to the farmers in the agri-export zone. At present, the organisation has the strength of about 3,000 employees, after offering VRS to over 250 employees recently. Under the Sohna brand, he says, Markfed sells basmati rice, refined mustard oil, vanaspati, pickles, squashes and canned products in the domestic market.

With a touch of pride, he says, "The Centre has given the status of an export house to Markfed. During 2002-03, we exported wheat worth over Rs 1000 crore and rice worth Rs 86 crore. This year, the exports are expected to increase substantially because of better crop yields. The corruption and mismanagement in the handling of produce have been controlled to a large extent."

In addition, Markfed is also running about 15 rice mills, including six modern Korean rice mills and a pesticide plant at Mohali. That most of these plants are incurring net losses, and running with obsolete technology is another matter.

Political interference

Mr Harbhajhan Dass, president of the Markfed Employees Association, laments that the state government is still keeping the organisation under its control by appointing its own MD and other managerial staff, who are neither accountable to farmers nor employees. For instance, he says, the combine-harvester unit at Ludhiana is lying dead for the past several years. The state government is also using Markfed to make political appointments or take away profits through various channels. However, he says, "during the past three years, the financial performance has improved, and some of the loss-making units have come out of the red."

The fact remains that Markfed has not succeeded in winning the goodwill of a majority of its stakeholders, the farmers and consumers. The customers in the market also feel that its products are no match for the products of MNCs. Farmers rue that the state government and the management have not bothered to restructure such a prestigious institution over the years.

Unprofessional

Mr Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, president of the Bharti Kisan Union (Lakhowal), says, "Markfed has badly failed as a cooperative and commercial institution, though it was set up exclusively to play a decisive role in the modernisation of agriculture and rural economy. Though it claims to be an agriculture-oriented organisation, yet it is dominated by non-professionals, who are unable to work in the rural environment."

He says that while other states are talking of organic farming and genetically modified crops, Markfed is still busy in the procurement business. Had it been managed by professionals like Amul in Gujarat or other cooperatives in Maharashtra, the face of Punjab agricultural would have been totally different, he feels.

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Cactus has potential in the Shivaliks
B.S. Dilta and S.D. Badiyala

THE growing of xerophytic crops, which require very little water, particularly cacti, is a viable option in the harsh conditions of the Shivalik hills.

The foothills of Himachal Pradesh, comprising Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Una and parts of Chamba, Kangra, Sirmaur and Solan districts, are the Shivalik ranges of the Himalayas, which go up to an elevation of 914 m above mean sea level. These hills occupy 19 per cent of the total area of the state.

The districts of Bilaspur and Hamirpur and their adjoining areas receive an average precipitation of about 1200-1600 mm annually, but 80 per cent of this is received during monsoon. As a consequence, the hills experience a harsh climate during summer, with the mercury at times going beyond 40`B0C. The water holding capacity due to gravel and stony nature of the soil is poor and shallow-rooted field crops are uneconomical under rainfed conditions.

In recent times, commercial cultivation of cacti for export as well as the domestic market has become an important part of the floriculture business in many parts of India. It is being done in Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Kolkata in West Bengal; Hyderabad; Nagpur and Pune in Maharashtra; Chennai; Jhansi; Gawalior and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh); Panchkula in Haryana; and Bhubaneswar in Orissa. From the annual sale of these plants, a multi-billion dollar business has been established world over.

Cacti have a peculiar beauty and attraction, imparted by unique morphological characteristics of the plants. The infinite variations in shape, size and colour make them one of the most decorative houseplants. Although cacti are native to the USA, Mexico, Chile, Brazil and some inhospitable mountains of the Andes, they can be grown in almost all parts of the world and can withstand extreme temperatures with minimal humidity.

Most cacti grow luxuriantly and flower well under the following basic conditions:

Protection from rain and direct exposure to intense light.

  • A porous soil mixture: comprising equal parts of sandy loam soil, well-rotten farmyard manure, well-decomposed leaf mould and medium textured sand (river sand) that allows rapid water drainage and easy proliferation of roots.

  • A soil type or growing media that has a slightly acidic pH reaction (5.5-6.0), less of nitrogen, low humus content and ample supply of potassium and phosphorus.

  • A site with plentiful sunlight and warmth, even if only for part of the day, combined with regular and gentle watering during active growth and flowering.

  • Prevention of mould, insect infestations and diseases.

There is good scope for commercial cultivation of cacti and other succulents in the Shivalik hills experiencing warm and dry climate, since most cacti and succulents want such conditions for their better growth and flowering.

Nearly 100 varieties of cacti were introduced from Kalimpong in the first instance and planted under poly-house conditions at the Regional Horticultural and Forestry Research Station, Bhota. Later, another 110 varieties were introduced from the Regional Plant Resource Centre, Bhubaneswar (Orissa) for studying their performance.

On the basis of observations recorded at the Bhota research station, different cacti and succulents were found to perform better and may be recommended for commercial cultivation. These are: Agave victoriea reginae, Astrophytum myriostigma, Cereus jamacaru, Echinocactus grusonii, Espostoa lanata, Euphorbia "White ghost", Euphorbia "Red leaf", Ferocactus horridus, Hildwinteria aureispina, Mammillaria albilanata, M. bella, M. camptotricha, M. collonii, M. elongata, M. glassi, M. geminispina, M. hahniana, M. kuentziana, M. saboae, Melocactus bahiensis, Notocactus magnificus and Rebutia aureispina.

In addition, certain coloured cacti like Gymnocalycium mihanovichii cvs. Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, Dr. R.S. Paroda, H.F. Mooney, H.H. Haines; and Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var. friedrichii cvs. Balabhadra, Britton, Gordon Rowley and Prof P. Maheshwari have also performed well under Bhota conditions.

Cacti cultivation can improve the economy of the poor farmers of lower hills in Himachal Pradesh in the same way as vegetable cultivation has done in the mid-hills and apple in the higher hills.

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