NRIs from Gujarat develop a system of cultivating cash crops

PUNE: Chandubhai Banth, who runs a hotel in Nashville in Tennessee, has found a way to cultivate his farmland in Gujarat. And it is not for money, he says.

Call it bonding or business acumen, this trend among farm-owning non-resident Indians (NRIs) has kept coffers ringing for many villages in Gujarat. "Money is not important. It's purely for sentimental reasons. What is important is that our ancestral land must remain in good condition. I have given the right of cultivating my land and appropriating the revenue from it to my friend," said Banth, who owns 55 acres of agricultural land close to a sugar factory in Surat district.

While Punjab, Haryana and Andhra Pradesh have NRI landowners , Gujarat is enjoying prosperity from NRI farmers. Instead of keeping ancestral land fallow, NRIs from Gujarat have developed a system of cultivating cash crops - mainly sugarcane and banana - through friends or relatives. Some have even given power of attorney to relatives to collect the proceeds.

Bardoli, which witnessed an uprising against British rule in 1928, has the highest number of NRI sugarcane farmers.

"There are many NRI farmers in Surat, Navsari and Balsad. We do the cane payments in the name of the NRI farmers, who collect the money after two or three years," said Bardoli Sugar Co-operative managing director Pankaj Patel.

With most NRIs preferring to collect their farm proceeds once in two or three years, some sugar cooperatives in Gujarat have become cash-rich holding the payments in the form of fixed deposits.

"There are a considerable number of sugar factories in Bardoli, Madhi and Calthan, which have deposits of a few hundred crores. It's a regular practice in Gujarat that sugarcane farmers keep their payment with the sugar factories as fixed deposits for an interest rate of about 5%," said MK Patel, chairman of Gujarat Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation.

Ashwin Patel, who is president of Surat Jila Panchayat and chairman of Kamrej Banana Cooperative, cultivates land in Surat for some friends and relatives. "Sugarcane is the most preferred crop by NRI farmers, while banana is cultivated on the banks of the Tapi river," he said.

The revenue-sharing arrangement between NRI farmers and cultivators varies from case to case. While Banth does not charge Patel for cultivating his land, others share revenue in the ratio 60:40 or 70:30.

"We get good treatment and hospitality from our friends during our stays in the mother land. This is more than enough for us," Banth said.

As everywhere, the bonding of the NRIs with their land has opened routes of prosperity for many Gujarat villages. "Some NRIs have donated funds for construction of infrastructure like roads and libraries. We are thinking of institutionalising their funds for rural development," Patel said.
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