Why Punjab should adopt Indoor Farming
By Parthu Kalva – Research Assistant at Center for Gender Equity and Health
Punjab has historically been called the breadbasket of India. The Land of the Five Rivers is one of the most fertile in the subcontinent, meeting much of the demand for the staple crop wheat, sugarcane, and barley. Agriculture in Punjab, as is the case for much of the rest of India, is a foundation for its economy, culture, and social practices. However, Punjab stands out by being one of the first areas of India where the Green Revolution took place.
In the 1960s-1970s, Punjabi farmers took a chance with newly introduced fertilizers, pesticides, and GMO seeds, hoping to increase their yields and become more competitive. As much of the world knows, the experiment drove down the sustainability of agriculture dramatically. Year after year, small farmers in Punjab became increasingly dependent on a variety of additives to pay off heightening loans. A combination of the overuse of pesticides and planting untraditional crops made much of Punjabi soil infertile, led to a water shortage, and increased vulnerability to pests.  As political incentive continued to encourage the usage of GMO seeds and products throughout the rest of India, this pattern repeated throughout the subcontinent for the next 30 years.
In the present day, India’s agricultural crisis has reached its boiling point. Traditional climate patterns have largely been skewed due to climate change, shattering crop yields and forcing many farmers to migrate to urban areas for jobs. As a result, the size of farms are increasing and the number of land-owning farmers are dwindling. The Indian Census shows that land-owning farmers decreased in India since the 1950’s by 53%.  Meanwhile, Cities are increasing in population density, bringing formation to slums where ex-farmers with little other skills continue to dwell until gentrified. In this setting, we see idle Punjabi youth become addicted to drugs, fueling a drug epidemic that has shaken the very core of Punjab and endangers its future.
In recent news, Punjabi farmers rallied against the outcome of Punjab’s Chief Minister Badal’s dealings with multinational companies selling pesticides. The Badal Government is currently facing immense pressure from Punjabi farmers to obtain compensation for their crop losses that year. On top of the crop losses, it was found that 1) Badal made a deal with Oberon that paid higher than market price and 2) Other fertilizer companies were not consulted. In turn, the fertilizer loaned to farmers played a large role in heightening crop losses, causing farmers to protest for the compensation for lost crops.  These events have served as a foundation for a greater political and economic crisis that is shaking Punjab today. Moreover, these events represent a paradigm developing all over the world(most notably Syria): climate change bankrupts small farmers, leading to rapid urbanization, leading to massive unemployment and poverty, leading to earth-shaking political and social conflict.
So where should Punjab turn next? How can Punjab help empower its small farmers to have greater control over their crop yields? How can Punjab help boost livelihood of farmers while maintaining the sustainability of agriculture?
Part of the answer continues to be untapped: indoor farming.
Indoor agriculture consists of any form of controlled environment agriculture, with varying layers of controlled environments. Building off the industry of greenhouse farming, indoor farms have had rapid progress in the past 5-6 years in the form of expanding businesses, advancing technologies, and strengthening networks. However, indoor farms are yet to be popularized in mass in the developing world. Here are just a handful of the several reasons as to why Punjab should take the lead:
· In a controlled environment setting, climate is a controlled variable, meaning that the control on return on investment is much higher. This means that farmers are significantly less likely to go into debt, as they can more accurately gauge the outcome of their efforts.
· Since the earth’s climate is out of the equation, there are no more seasonal constrictions. As a result, the farmer does not have to wait until the next harvest season to reap a profit, but can resow seeds immediately after harvest. This can help make farming a much more lucrative business while helping cut down the price of food.
· Using hydroponic technology, farms no longer require pesticides, since a vast majority of pests are in the soil. This means that the success of agricultural operations are less prone to becoming mixed up in corrupt government dealings, and farms can have a chance to act as autonomous bodies.
· Traditional farming uses 20 times more water on average than recirculating hydroponic systems, giving Punjab a chance to conserve its freshwater/groundwater supply. This is another emerging crisis throughout much of India, where large percentages of groundwater has been depleted. [4,5]
· Constructing indoor farms in urban centers can cut down carbon emissions by helping cut down miles that food is transported. In addition, the need for new farmland will be reduced, reducing deforestation.
· By establishing community-based indoor farms throughout Punjab, employment opportunities may open for thousands of ex-farmers. Punjabi NGOs may act as a supportive framework by conducting microloan schemes and keeping farmers accountable; nevertheless, the application of indoor farming should be guided by the ingenuity and innovation of Punjabi farmers. Introducing the indoor farming movement in Punjab through a community-based, grassroots medium will increase the agency of small farmers, help bring economic and social stability to the state, combat climate change, and help Punjab live up to its bread basket status in a sustainable way.
- Shiva, Vandana. “The Green Revolution in the Punjab.” The Ecologist 21.2 (1991): n. pag. Web.
- Dev, S. Mahendra. India Development Report 2015. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
- “The Whitefly Brief: A Pelican Brief on the Punjab Situation.” Medium. N.p., 17 Oct. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. https://medium.com/@rupinderpal/the-whitefly-brief-db08fd6db6d2#.qx8vweyue
- “Water Use Efficiency in Hydroponics and Aquaponics.” Bright Agrotech. N.p., 04 June 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. https://www.brightagrotech.com/water-use-efficiency-hydroponics-aquaponics/
- “India’s Groundwater Crisis.” Live Mint. N.p., n.d. Web.
Courtesy of Parthu Kalva
Parthu Kalva is a UCSD graduate in public health and global health. His interests include global health, international development, and food security. He is currently a Research Assistant at the Center for Gender Equity and Health and a Research and Analysis Intern at the Association for Vertical Farming.