September 27, 2006

PM Inaugurates Field Fresh Agriculture Centre of Excellence

"I am happy to be here to inaugurate the Field Fresh Agri Centre of Excellence. This is a welcome initiative of Bharti Enterprises. I commend their commitment to the growth of modern farming in Punjab. The enterprising farmers of Punjab were the pioneers of the Green Revolution. It was the most important knowledge-based intervention in agriculture in over a hundred years. We need to once again show the vision, technological ability and administrative skill of the Green Revolution to take our agriculture to new heights.

Higher rates of economic growth in our country are critically dependent on achieving higher rates of agricultural growth. This is also necessary to improve the lives of the farming community. This requires higher investment in agriculture. This also requires greater diversification into high value crops, greater value addition through agro-processing and better exploitation of new marketing opportunities.

In addition to irrigation, agricultural investment has to be enhanced in supporting infrastructure. We need better transport connectivity, reliable supply chains and cold chains, more cargo and marketing centers, and so on. We also need a new surge in R&D in rain-fed crops and in post-harvest technologies. I have repeatedly drawn attention to the need for revitalizing and improving our research system, our extension services, our food processing technologies and our marketing systems.

In each of these areas the public sector has an important role to play. But it need not be the only player. We need much greater involvement of the private sector. The investment requirements are huge, and so are the opportunities for the private sector. I am, therefore, happy that Bharati Group and the Rothschild Group have taken this joint initiative to set up this centre. This arrangement under contract farming and joint partnership will work as a nodal point for developing new and high yielding varieties of various crops. It will showcase best practices in farming techniques and technologies and impart scientific training to farmers. It will encourage farmers to come forward and participate in your projects.

India is the 2nd largest grower of fruits and vegetables. We produce about 130 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables every year. Our share of global fruit output is 10% and of global vegetable output, 14%. However, our horticulture exports account for less than 1% of world trade in fresh produce. The percentage of wastage is alarmingly high at almost 30% of total production.

The reasons for this are many. Poor post-harvest management facilities; too many levels of intermediation; the lack of transport connectivity and supply chains, the prohibitive cost of shipment; limited technical knowledge for meeting world standards in cultivation; and, a lack of effort in implementing stringent food safety and hygiene norms, are some of them.

Our competitiveness in a number of commodities, especially fruits and vegetables, and special niche products such as organic produce, must be better harnessed. We must remove existing constraints in post harvest handling and simplify export processes and procedures. I dream of a day when a small farmer from Punjab can take his fresh beans or bell pepper or cherry tomato to a Perishable Cargo Centre at Amritsar airport and export it without difficulty.

We have launched the National Horticulture Mission to give a new boost to the horticulture sector. This will benefit farmers in Punjab immensely. We are simplifying export procedures. We are improving road, rail and air connectivity. In the morning, I laid the foundation stone of the Dedicated Freight Corridor which will be a boon for farm exports.

Our Government has taken a number of policy decisions relating to investment, taxation, foreign trade, and banking that will have a positive impact on the farm economy. Licensing is no longer required to establish food processing units. In addition, FDI in food processing is now given automatic approval. We have made warehouse receipts negotiable and are modernizing the commodity markets. I hope the corporate sector would respond to our policies and invest in the rural economy. The can help change the lives of millions of our farmers.

Punjab has been the torch bearer of the Green Revolution.

This State has contributed greatly to our country's food security. Your enterprise, creativity and commitment have helped India become self-reliant in food. I now want to see a second Green Revolution in Punjab. I want to see a new Punjab in which new industries are set up. I want to see a new Punjab which is a knowledge hub with world class institutions. I want to see a prosperous Punjab. I want each one of you to help us create this new Punjab.

I am told that the state government is actively encouraging contract farming in high value crops, in over a million hectares. I hope this will open up new avenues for private investment in post-harvest management facilities. However, contract farming should be such that it protects land ownership of farmers. Contract farming should not lead to the displacement of farmers. The private sector must ensure that the growth of business opportunities is associated with prosperity of the farmers.

We are committed to the development of the farming community. The success of the Field Fresh initiative is, therefore, important. I am happy to inaugurate the Field Fresh Agri Centre of Excellence. I congratulate all those associated with this project and wish you all success. I compliment the Bharti Group once again for this initiative and also Lady Rothschild for partnering in this initiative. I once again congratulate Shri Amarinder Singh for taking this visionary step which has the potential of transforming Punjab's agriculture."