Tuesday, January 15, 2013


A perennial question that has been begging for an answer in independent India is whether the country will ever be self-sufficient vis-a-vis the basic foods like cereals, pulses and edible oils? When the much hyped Green Revolution was at its pinnacle, many citizens in this country entertained hope that self-sufficiency was achievable one day or the other. But with each passing day the pessimistic population is increasing and for a valid reason. The agricultural policy of the country, if there is one, is a sham with neither the NPC nor the GOI having any clue regarding the direction the country is moving. Year after year the gap between demand and supply is widening at an alarming rate when it comes to pulses and edible oils. As for the cereals, though adequate production is being achieved to meet the statistical average per capita need, due to economic compulsions many poor families have limited or no access to them at affordable price. The global demand for food grains may provide an outlet to the surplus production of many farmers through export but the restrictive and unpredictable export policy of GOI is a dampener to such efforts. Naturally the suppressed entrepreneurial energy of aspirational Indian farmers can find expression only in a foreign land with free environment and minimum hassles by way of government interference. Here is the story of the farmers from Punjab region who are making it big in countries like Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Georgia and other erstwhile states of former Soviet Union, cocking a snook at the GOI leaving it red faced! 

Singh, 38, is one of a new wave of farmers pioneering one of the world's more unlikely migrations. During a recent spell as a cook in Dusseldorf, Germany, he heard about thousands of acres of fertile land on former collective farms lying fallow in Georgia for want of manpower. The contrast with his native Punjab, with its surging population and high land prices, was striking. So two months ago, he and three friends flew from Amritsar to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to seal a deal for the lease of 50 hectares. Back for a short break and some tandoori chicken, Singh said he was very happy with the move, even if he remains slightly vague about the geography of his new home. "We are paying $950 [£580] for each hectare for a 99-year lease. You'd not get much for that in the Punjab. I'm not sure if the farm is in the north or south but it is sort of over by Turkey and Armenia," he said.Singh and his associates are far from alone. A growing number of Punjabi farmers are heading for Georgia. Agents in major towns such as Jalandhar are advertising Georgian land deals and business is brisk. "It started a while back, just a dozen or so. Maybe now it is hundreds. Once words spreads there will be many. They come to me for passports. They are looking for pastures new," said JS Sodhi, the bureaucrat who issues travel documents in Amritsar, the nearest major city to Manochahal.The farmers of the Punjab, known as the grain basket of India, have long searched overseas for new land. An earlier wave of migrants went to Canada, where urbanization meant thousands of farms were empty. More recently, Punjabi farmers have been buying or renting thousands of hectares in Ukraine, Uzbekistan and across eastern and central Africa."Punjabi people are always going to different countries. They are very adventurous and enterprising," said Sodhi.

The success of these entrepreneurs will depend to a large extent on their ability to respect the local population and its ethos and culture. Identifying themselves with the local citizenry and working for their uplifting through better employment opportunities and working conditions can be expected to endear them to their country of adoption. The idea that foreigners are allowed to own land by these countries must have strong reason and that could be to increase food production to meet the local demand. Therefore any marketing efforts must keep in view the food situation in that country and at least a part of the local need must be met from the production achieved by the Indian entrepreneurs. Probably Indians can be expected to learn valuable lessons from their foreign enterprises in course of time and must keep in mind the catastrophic experience of early Indian settlers in Africa who had to flee from these countries under tragic circumstances. Let it be a win-win situation for both the Indians and the countries of their adoption.


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