PRINCE Charles may not travel down to Fazilka, but he will certainly hear about the Punjab town’s experiments with silk, castor, multiplexes and imported farm equipment. This backward border district of Punjab is now a venue of some exciting experiments in rural retail and agriculture. Tucked away in the dusty folds of this faraway place on the southern tip of Punjab, is an unlikely farm equipment rental outlet, the first of its kind in the country run by local entrepreneur and farmer Vikram Ahuja, that offers a fleet of expensive and sophisticated farm tilling, sowing and harvesting machinery. Another upcoming project is an agri park that apart from helping to promote crop diversification through a novel unknown product by introducing Eri silk weaving to the area. “We already have a seed processing unit, expellers, solvent extraction unit, oil refinery, cotton ginning unit and a demo farm for Castor/Hyola cultivation and silk worm rearing,” says Mr Sanjeev Nagpal, who is heading the NASA Agro park project for Fazilka and is an ardent supporter of farm innovation in the area.
Meanwhile, Mr Ahuja’s Zamindara Engineering and Auto private Limited, inspired by US car rental models, now has four branches. “It is the first farm equipment rental firm in India,” he claims pointing to a fleet of branded tractors, locked safely in the shed. They would be out working 24x7 a month from now when the ‘season’ starts, as would the other equipment for tilling, harvesting, sowing etc. Mr Ahuja has already tied up with another national rural retail store chain to test drive this new farm service model even as he talks about extending the current business that also hosts a farmer support centre, into something more improbable; India’s first rural multiplex-mall for the small farmer at Fazilka. Mr Nagpal, who is also a convener, Agriculture Panel, CII Punjab State Council, adds a voice of belief to Mr Ahuja’s ambitions by making detail sketch of a rural hub that would provide, integrated farm services, entertainment and advice to the farmers of the surrounding areas. “This could all come together here with different counters for say vermin-compost, fertilizer, seeds and a Punjab Agriculture University advisor on the premises and maybe a small screen multiplex on the top,” he says describing the newly inaugurated Zamindara Farmer Help Centre in the district