The mega food park inaugurated last year at Dabwala Kalan in Fazilka district of Punjab is gradually making its presence felt in this border area, where most farmers were till recently stuck in the ‘paddy-wheat’ production cycle.
The food park set up with the support from ministry of food processing is at present processing and freezing a number of vegetables — from peas and potatoes to onions and capsicums — and a very wide range of fruits like strawberries and jamuns (black plum). It also boasts of an integrated milk processing facility for the manufacture of fresh milk, milk powder, cheese and other value added products.
Besides, it has a state-of- the-art biomass-based power plant, effluent treatment plant, rainwater harvesting facility, communication centre, etc. Grain silos with 40,000 tonne capacity, cold storage and dry warehouse besides separate sheds for micro, small and medium enterprises have been provided.
The food park would help keep interest of the youth in farming as returns from selling processed fruits and vegetables would be higher.
The typical paddy-wheat farming gives only assured incomes. If farmers grow broccoli or carrots or capsicums, the returns are far higher. But in the absence of an assured market, or a distant market which requires logistics management, the transaction advantage is lost to the intermediaries. A processing facility keeps market uncertainty at bay by announcing an ‘advance price’ — both for the farmer and the large institutional buyer.
Secondly, a state like Punjab faces the challenge of water and soil stress on account of intensive farming and excessive use of agro-chemicals in the paddy/wheat production cycle. Unless this cycle is abandoned, and farmers find it profitable to grow less water-intensive crops, the homilies about diversification would mean a little. A food park offers the possibility of providing a market for crops which use substantially less water and have a good demand, once the temporal and spatial constraints are overcome.
Traditional fruits like jamun, falsa and shehtoot (mulberry) can also be frozen and sold throughout the year. Their cultivation can also become commercially viable.
And of course the possibility of preparing ‘ready to eat’ products — from delicacies like sarson ka saag to mushroom-n-peas — adds real value. Once the primary collection centres are in place, the top grades can, and will be used for table purposes. All this will take away the land from the paddy-wheat cycle, thereby giving the required thrust to diversification of agriculture in Punjab.
Last but not the least is the potential for creating more jobs, especially for women and people belonging to lower class of society by making farming profitable on marginal land holdings. Imagine 100-odd green houses in a five to ten km radius of the food park growing broccoli, coloured capsicums, strawberries, English carrots, turnips, okra, gourds, cherry, tomatoes and much more. This will impact livelihoods and incomes in a positive spiral, besides being a lodestar for diversification of agriculture in the region!
The author is joint secretary with ministry of agriculture. Views expressed are personal