Chandigarh, Jan 28: With depleting rivers and groundwater, high pesticide dependence, climate risks and unsustainable cropping patterns like paddy growing, Punjab seeks Israel’s support to develop agri-infrastructure, minimise production and price risks and provide high-yielding and disease-free horticultural varieties that require less water.
Since India’s Independence, Punjab has been the food bowl of the nation and has mainly two crop systems -- wheat and paddy.
Farming experts say that it takes 3,800-5,000 litres of water to produce one kg of rice.
According to Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann rice is not even the state's staple food and its cultivation depleted Punjab's groundwater.
Agriculture experts foresee a major threat to the country's food security if the state's groundwater goes dry as it has already reached the depths of 150-200 metres in most places.
Groundwater contamination is another concern in Punjab that is not getting public attention.
To reduce farm distress, as a majority of the growers of Punjab are small and marginal farmers with declining and fragmenting landholdings, the state government last week explored opportunities to collaborate with Israel as it excels in advance farming technologies.
This collaboration with Israel would benefit local farmers as it would give them access to the latest farming technologies and teach them sustainable practices through centres of excellence.
It would also build on existing partnerships in horticulture projects with the need for a digital revolution.
Also an attempt was initiated to provide farm-to-market technology to facilitate the marketing of kinnow, the state’s flagship citrus fruit with an average annual production of over 5 lakh tonnes, mainly in the South Malwa belt, in case of a bumper crop.
Field reports say this year the kinnow mandarin had bumper production but farmers stared at poor income as they fetched an average rate of Rs 9-10 per kg, compared to Rs 20-25 per kg they got in the previous year when the crop was not bountiful.
This season 47,000 hectares of land was brought under kinnow production. Also the kinnow flavoured gin, a product of Punjab Agro Industries Corporation Ltd launched last year that was brewed in Goa, has failed to make waves despite its huge value.
A Punjab Government spokesperson told IANS that during the meeting with Hadas Bakst, Political Domestic Advisor, Embassy of Israel, on January 23 in Chandigarh, the state’s Horticulture Minister Chetan Singh Jauramajra highlighted that underground water was depleting rapidly -- a critical issue that needs urgent attention.
Chetan Singh Jauramajra highlighted key areas for collaboration, including digital solutions for pest control, climate and soil monitoring systems, use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for crop yields, decision support systems, drones for harvesting and spraying, as well as precision farming software solutions.
The discussion touched upon the potential of year-round cultivation in greenhouses and hydroponic farming to address the increasing demand for food, the spokesperson told IANS.
The minister focused on extending sensor technology-based irrigation systems and innovative storage solutions for efficient and sustainable farming.
Addressing the need for advancements in citrus cultivation, he proposed the integration of byproduct technologies to manage biowaste effectively.
On an average, a single piece of kinnow mandarin contains 45-50 per cent juice and the rest of the percentage is peel, rag and seeds, which is of no use so far.
With the introduction of new machinery at processing units, the management of biowaste of citrus such as extraction of limonin, peel oil, etc., will help a lot.
He asked to introduce new patented citrus varieties, rootstocks resistant to pests and the cultivation of new crops like dragon fruit and raspberries.
In the vegetable sector, the minister advocated for the introduction of seedless varieties of melons, single-picking varieties of peas and tomatoes suitable for mechanisation and brinjal varieties resistant to fruit and shoot borers.
The minister underlined the need for biodegradable and slow-release fertiliser technology in horticulture, along with the utilisation of bio-pesticide technology to control pests and diseases.
He proposed the incorporation of instant sensor-based technologies to detect nutrient deficiencies in horticultural crops.
Director, Horticulture, Shailender Kaur emphasised on the integrated value chain centre of excellence establishment in Punjab in collaboration with Israeli technology to reduce post-harvest losses in horticulture crops.
Hadas Bakst said Israel was keen to enhance technological collaboration in agriculture and horticulture sectors with Punjab. She said expert-level meetings would be held in February and March with focus on delivering the latest technology and introducing new horticultural varieties to address the state's depleting groundwater issues.
Hadas Bakst also highlighted the ongoing operation of two centres of excellence in Punjab by Israel, emphasising the continued sharing of agricultural technologies.