Harbant Singh from Punjab switched to organic farming to cultivate dragon fruit and sandalwood as they require less water than conventional crops.
When Harbant Singh from Punjab’s Thulewal village joined his family occupation of farming in the 70s, the groundwater was available at 15 feet. Decades later, when his son, Satnam started farming, groundwater tables had drastically fallen to 150 feet.
This had a direct effect on the Singh family. They were reeling under debt due to the high input costs for motors to pull up the water, the tubewell and the heavy usage of chemical fertilisers.
In the land of five rivers (Beas, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, and Sutlej), the father-son duo stared at a looming water crisis – just like tens thousands of farmers across the state.
Figures back up this unfortunate plight.
As per a 2019 report by the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), Punjab, where today paddy fields thrive, will turn into a desert within 25 years if rampant groundwater extraction continues.
Way before this report was released, Harbant realised the environmental damage his farming techniques were making and even predicted deteriorating conditions of farmers.
But he lacked avenues and resources to implement pro-environmental changes on his farm until 2016.
In that year, Harbant and Satnam participated in a workshop organised by Kheti Virsasat Mission (KVM), a charitable trust helping farmers switch to organic farming. They interacted with farmers, learnt methods and identified eco-friendly alternatives to chemical fertilisers.
“Using harmful pesticides and exploiting water tables is like an addiction in our region and many farmers want to come out of this vicious cycle but no one wants to take risks. All of us are aware of the damage it is causing to the lands. So, when I got an opportunity and assurance from a farmer’s community that switching to organic is possible, I grabbed it,” Harbant tells The Better India.
After attending the workshop, the 60-year-old decided to keep aside his years of experience and knowledge for the sake of a larger good and started growing dragon fruit, lemon and sandalwood.
Explaining the reason behind choosing these unusual plantations, Satnam says “Of the eight acres, we have dedicated 1.55 acres for chemical-free farming. Both dragon fruits and sandalwood use 90 per cent less water as compared to traditional crops like wheat or rice. They also need less maintenance and input cost but they give high returns.”
Haresh Thacker, a dragon fruit farming expert from Kutch, agrees with Satnam and says, “The dragon fruit is a tropical plant that is low on calorie content and contains antioxidants. It does not require much water to grow and can thrive in arid areas.”
Even though the water requirements and agricultural inputs are minimal, dragon fruit farming can have phenomenal results in terms of yield if maintained properly.