Delhi Dispatch: Rice, Wheat, and Water Serve Up Equal Helpings of Punjab’s Wealth and Risk
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
NARAINGARH, Haryana, India — The first rain in six months, and a stout and cold wind whipped at the black plastic covering stacks of grain Thursday morning at the Shivshakti Rice Mill, one of 13 mills surrounding this roadside village about 70 kilometers west of Chandigarh. Inside, the mill was quiet, dark, and stocked to the ceiling with more burlap bags heavy with rice, a fortress of stacked grain, like sandbags tiered for a flood.
Naraingarh is a place of tiers — levels of social standing and economic well-being formed by the productivity of irrigated clay soils that produce some of the richest crops of wheat and rice in India — and, for that matter, the world. The small roadside village is one of hundreds of farming communities in northwest India that since the green revolution of the 1960s have consistently produced ever larger grain harvests.
The joining of high-yield seeds with fertilizer, chemicals, and unlimited amounts of water led to India’s food self-sufficiency. Those same farm practices put Haryana, and neighboring Punjab, at the very top of the per capita income pyramid among India’s 28 states.
Hard work and ample harvests, of course, reflect the abundant opportunities for those sufficiently entrepreneurial to seize them, like Ashoka Gupta, 50, and his brother Vinod Gupta, 54, who built the Shivshakti Rice Mill into a respected business. The brothers started their careers as teenagers in a grain trading business owned and managed by their father. Both men live in handsome homes in town and send their children to college.