Jaipur: New crops like dates, olives, pomegranates and pistachio. Judicious use of water. The best technology that is available. Organic farming, and no genetically modified crops for now. These are some of the focus areas that Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje hopes will transform the semi-arid and desert state into an agricultural powerhouse.
“We cannot transform the agriculture sector overnight and have to set our priorities right," Raje said on Thursday, while interacting with journalists on the sidelines of the Global Rajasthan Agritech Meet (GRAM) held in Jaipur this week.
The logistics, from warehouses to cold chain, will improve the shelf life of the produce and allow the farmer more control over prices, Raje said, adding, “Most important is to inculcate some good habits like using the right amount of water. So, can we use new technology like fertigation, drips and sprinklers?"
“We want to give the farmers a menu of crops that they can choose from with information on prices," the chief minister said. The menu includes crops like dragon fruit and oranges, in addition to the ones that are considered the core strengths of the state—pearl millets, milk and mustard.
Not many know that Rajasthan, India’s largest state in terms of area, is also the second-largest producer of milk in the country after Uttar Pradesh. Rajasthan is also the largest producer of wool and among the top producers of bajra (pearl millet) and mustard in India.
What is the states’ plan to achieve the Centre’s ambitious goal of doubling farm incomes by 2022? “We do have a plan. (In) states like Madhya Pradesh (the ruling government) had three terms to increase farm water availability and that is showing in their agricultural growth rate. To take farmers away from wheat to horticulture or chemical to organic farming takes time. You cannot force a farmer to change their ways overnight."
On allowing genetically modified crops like GM mustard (the Centre is yet to take a final call on this), Raje said, “At the moment it’s a no."
“Why go through any of these now? First understand your roots and then go on to bigger things. After that the choice is not ours but the farmers’, remember. Now our priority is to get the foundation right."
Soil health, augmenting water availability and animal husbandry are our strengths which we want to build upon, the chief minister said. “Even during times of drought the farmers fall back on their livestock. So you do not hear of (farmer) suicides in Rajasthan," the chief minister said.
Why arrange a mega event like GRAM? “The idea was, come here and see the respect we hold you in. With that confidence go back and do a great job. Know that Rajasthan depends on you (the farmer) to take us to new heights."
The three-day event organised by the Rajasthan government and industry lobby group Ficci also saw investment proposals of ₹ 4,400 in agriculture and food processing sectors, and a feverish pitch by Yoga guru Baba Ramdev wanting to set up a mega food park in the state.
“We (Patanjali Ayurved Ltd) will feed the entire country Rajasthan’s millets. I guarantee to buy all the aloe vera grown by farmers here," Ramdev said, adding, “We will get into the dairy business by next year and Patanjali will increase its turnover (20 fold, to ₹ 1 trillion) in the next five years."