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Scent of a send-off in cabbage carnival

Nagpur, Feb. 9: The cabbage and cauliflower came to fruition today; the sunflower, the chrysanthemum, the mustard and the coriander flowered through last week, one by one.

It was timed that way — to mark a revival and, possibly, a retirement.

When India’s biggest carnival of farmers was opened today after a gap of over half a century, there was also a feeling that perhaps a spectacular farewell was being given to Sharad Pawar.

Spending a decade at the helm of the Indian agriculture establishment, the Union minister and Maharashtra politician has announced that he will not contest the Lok Sabha polls and has already got himself elected to the Rajya Sabha.

It is against this backdrop that the Rs 45-crore farm fair at the sprawling campus of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) here is being held. Hosted by Pawar’s agriculture ministry and the Maharashtra government and partnered by the CII, the fair is expected to draw around 4 lakh farmers.

Around a thousand exhibitors from the public and private sectors have put up stalls in four massive hangars. Over 100 wedding halls, several guest houses, schools, hotels and hostels in Nagpur have been booked to host the farmers and over 2,000 buses booked to ferry them to and from the venue. The five-day event will end on February 13.

A year and a half ago, Pawar had conceived and announced the exhibition — the last such farm spectacle was held 55 years ago under the watch of Panjabrao Deshmukh, India’s first agriculture minister who was fondly called Bhausaheb.

Handpicked by Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhausaheb had organised the World Agriculture Fair in 1959 in New Delhi. Inaugurated by Dwight Eisenhower, the then US President, the fair was visited by many non-farmers, including the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

This time, the fair is national, not international, but it is being organised on a far bigger scale.

The fair was inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee — and the demo plot next to the main hall had the six carefully nursed crops up and smiling. Over 300 varieties of 54 crops planted on different demo plots all over the campus last November were timed to reach flowering or fruition for this farm exposition, according to a CICR scientist.

The flowers were in honour of the President but the thought behind them is in line with Pawar’s thrust. Known for unconventional — and sometimes controversial — positions on agriculture as well as politics, Pawar has been trying to modernise farming.

Precision farming is among the key attractions of the show, christened Krishi Vasant in the memory of Maharashtra’s longest serving chief minister, the late Vasantrao Naik. The exposition also mirrors the Centre’s wish to make farming mechanised, driven by technology and steered by industry.

The fair addresses several sub-themes such as agriculture research; seeds and planting material; soil health; credit and insurance; farm mechanisation; animal husbandry; and cold storage and warehousing.

Seven states are showcasing their agriculture development extension programmes. An array of new machines and technology is on display. So is a “live demonstration” on 304 varieties of 54 crops — which means the demo plants will show how cereals, pulses, vegetables, fodder, oilseeds and aromatic plants are cultivated. The fair will also retell 90 success stories based on best practice models.

“It’s the most ambitious agricultural exposition and demonstration ever in India,” Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said.

Pawar is also using this fair as preparation for the Maharashtra Assembly elections later this year. Farmers from across the state are being brought over — something that should help the Congress-NCP alliance.

“Industry must work hand in hand with agriculture,” President Mukherjee said. “We must invest in agriculture research and food processing.”

The fair also comes at a time other segments of the economy have been hogging the limelight. But Ashish Bahuguna, the secretary to the agriculture ministry, pointed out: “When all other sectors of the economy have not been doing well, agriculture has provided the silver lining. The event is being organised in spring that gives a message of renewal, growth and prosperity of harvest.”