NEW DELHI : Till a decade ago, the barley that farmers grew in semi-arid Haryana and Rajasthan due to water scarcity would mostly be used as animal feed. Now, with international beer manufacturers keen to source barley locally, these farmers could see their coffers swelling.
"Our annual requirement of barley grain is about 15,000 tonnes, of which just 1,000 tonnes is procured locally and the rest is imported. We can fulfil our requirement by encouraging barely cultivation in India. We have found the climate in this region (Haryana, Rajasthan) suitable for malt-grade grain," Pedro Aidar, President of Business Unit India of Belgium-based AB InBev, told IANS.
To this end, the company, which owns the iconic beer brand Budweiser, recently held a grand event for farmers in Gurugram -- a satellite town of the national capital -- promising them good returns if they opted for contract farming for cultivating malt-grade barley.
Under contract farming, a grower agrees to provide a pre-decided quantity of a specific agricultural product.
According to the Indian Institute of Wheat & Barley Research (IIWBR), barley could become a cash crop in arid and semi-arid areas, especially in Haryana and Rajasthan, if farmers succeed in producing standard quality malt-grain.
"Barley needs a similar temperature as wheat. However, the water requirement is less than half, which makes it suitable for dry areas. It is good if the farmers are going to secure an assured income through contract farming. Anyway, contract farming of barley has been picking up recently," IIWBR Director Gyanendra Singh told IANS.
Traditionally, barley is grown in Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, but it is mostly used as animal feed.
Increasing urbanisation and changing food habits in recent years have shown significant increase in demand for beer, causing increase in imports and cultivation of barley locally.
While farmers are mostly looking at the breweries' offers with great hope, they have their own concerns to raise.
Kamlesh Kumar from Khariyan village of Sirsa district of Haryana said: "A similar event was held at Sirsa last year when I thought I must try this. So I replaced wheat with barley and I produced 5,000 quintals (500 tonnes) this year. I received MSP (Minimum Support Price) of Rs 1,525 per quintal. However, I have to make sure that the grain quality is standard and as per the requirement."
In the Gurugram event, a common concern was evident on the faces of all the farmers of what would happen if their grain quality is below the expectations of the breweries and the expenses they have to incur for buying seeds, fertilisers and machinery.
Gulab Singh, a farmer from Jhajjar district of Haryana, said: "Since we cannot grow any major crop other than barley or sometimes wheat due to scarcity of water, the option of contract farming seems attractive. However, we are concerned about the expenses of seeds, fertiliser and machinery we will have to buy. And what if breweries reject small-sized grains that are not suitable for malt?"
AB InBev has partnered with French grain cooperative group Axereal to provide high quality seeds, agronomist support and advanced machinery to farmers and to carry out crop procurement.
Sudhanshu Jangir, head of Axereal's India unit, told IANS: "Farmers need not worry as the price of our high-quality seeds will not be more than the other seeds in the market. In addition, we will mostly pay higher than the MSP."
Jangir said that the selling of seeds and procurement will be carried out in accordance with the policies of the state and Central governments.
At the Gurugram event, Axereal experts told farmers that theoretically, barley can be harvested two to three times a year -- an indication of huge returns but the issue of water availability in such cases remained a question mark.
The legislator from Pataudi, Bimla Chaudhary told IANS: "We are welcoming brewery companies so our framers should earn. However, problem of water is still there. We hope we will get our share of water soon (from the rivers in Punjab). Let us see."
The total area under barley cultivation last season was about 1.2 million hectares against 31 million hectares under wheat, as per the IIWBR. In 2015-16, total production of barley was 1.44 million tonnes.
- Saurabh Katkurwar