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Indian farmers charting a course to Canada in search of “greener pastures”

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Ludhiana-based Punjab Agricultural University ( PAU ), India , prepares prospective immigrant Indian farmers in Canadian farm practices.

The Canadian farming industry is experiencing a serious shortage in agricultural workers. Canadian farmers are making their way to retirement in massive numbers and the Canadian government is sufficiently concerned that it has begun recruiting farmers from across the globe to migrate to Canada.

But Canada doesn’t simply want farmers; it wants farmers who have experience in the latest Canadian agricultural techniques. The PAU course offers training to Punjab farmers leading to legitimate credentials which facilitate immigration to Canada. The school offers classes in English and specific training in scientific methods of Canadian farming.

The program’s “Directorate of Extension Education”, is a one-month preparatory course in Canadian farming practices. It teaches prospective Indian immigrant the similarities and differences between Indian and Canadian farming, climatic conditions, and the latest agronomic practices for cultivating cereals, rye, oats, corn, canary seeds and sugar beet, vegetable and cut flower cultivation, management of pests, approaches to North American food marketing, practical training in farm machinery, and basic computer skills.

With towns and cities in Punjab growing rapidly, the price of farmland has skyrocketed there, and Indian farmers are selling high. With their abundance of newly acquired funds they begin to look west in search of bigger returns. Some farming families are even pooling their resources and jointly purchasing more Canadian land, making it a multi-family investment.

Baldev Singh of Akhara village in Jalandhar district is representative of the regional trend currently washing over the Indian sub-continental region. The 52-year-old farmer owns some 25 acres of Punjabi land, has already successfully completed the PAU course last year, and is seriously considering Canada as an option. “Farming is the only thing I know and I’ll migrate only if I can farm in Canada […] if I put in the same effort in Canada, I’m sure I’ll reap good dividends,” he says.

Rising cost of inputs, low returns, a falling water table and the consequent debt trap has made Canadian farming quite appealing to Indian farmers who have long since had agriculture in their blood. “No one wants to farm in Punjab. Given a chance, they’d all migrate,” he says. A strong sentiment perhaps, but a shared one among Punjab ‘s disillusioned farmers.

Farming is the only skill I have. I applied for migration to Canada with my family in 2002. I’m confident that I’ll be able to give them a better standard of living there. Here, I get less than a lakh (one-hundred thousand) per annum from my land as almost the entire labour force is hired”, Kanwaljit Singh, who owns 11 acres in Punjab, says.

Canada sees the success of new initiatives like Manitoba’s “Young Farmer Nominee Programme” (YFNP) aimed at attracting farmers below 40 to the province, as an effective means to draw new blood to the nation’s agricultural workforce. Under the YFNP, a farmer with a net worth of C$150,000 and proven experience in farm management could immigrate within as little as two years and have a chance to buy a farm in Manitoba. Prince Edward Island has also instituted a similar programme to attract immigrant farmers.

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