Manmeet Singh Gill
Tribune News Service
Tarn Taran, August 20
The farmers of Khalra-Bhikhiwind belt, along the Pakistan border, have stopped growing red chillies and have shifted to wheat-paddy farming.
This has happened despite successive state governments harping on diversification of crops due to the post-Green Revolution stagnation in agricultural yield and the effects of wheat-paddy monoculture on soil health and water table.
Unregulated market price of red chillies, which used to a prominent crop in the area until a few years ago, and the shortage of labour have forced farmers to go for paddy which has an assured market price. The crop was so popular in this belt that the sleepy Khalra village, just 1.5 km from the Pakistan border, had emerged as the biggest market of red chillies in the region after 1947.
But a visit to the Khalra mandi this time revealed that only few quintals of red chillies have arrived this season.
“The crop has arrived from other districts like Ferozepur and Fazilka. Very few people grow red chillies in this area nowadays,” said a worker at the mandi.
Gurcharan Das, an elderly whose family members had been commission agents in the purchase of red chillies for decades, said, “In those days, every street, every roof and every vacant plot of land looked red as chillies were left to dry for days. While the villagers became used to the sharp smell, outsiders could not enter the village without covering their nose and mouth with a cloth.”
He said that merchants from as far as Uttar Pradesh and Delhi came to Khalra to purchase red chillies. ‘Laungi mirch’, the variety that was mostly grown in the area, requires very less water.
Chief Agricultural Officer Dr Ravel Singh said, “The problem of labour is so acute that around 500 acres have been brought under direct sowing of paddy. With decrease in area under ‘laungi mirch’, the area under basmati has increased, which farmers feel is more profitable and less labour-intensive.” While the farmers can sell rice and wheat at the assured price, there is no such thing for red chillies.
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