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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 October 2006, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Punjab farmers seek Canada bonanza
Sanjoy Majumder
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Punjab, India

Harkirat Singh
If you sell five to six acres here you can buy thousands of acres in Canada
Harkirat Singh

It's late afternoon and I'm on a tour of Harkirat Singh's farm in the northern Punjabi district of Hoshiarpur. It's so big that we have to drive across it.

Orchards stretch out on either side of the narrow dirt track that we navigate in his four-wheel drive.

Harkirat says it's been in his family for generations.

"My father took over from my grandfather after his death and slowly, it passed on to the next generation. Now I'm looking after the farm."

The 150-acre farm has groves of different citrus variants - malta and jaffa oranges, even mangoes and berries.

It's been a lucrative business up till now generating thousands of dollars.

Harkirat lives on his farm with his family - they have a large home with satellite television, a swimming pool and even a paddock on which he can ride his horse in the evenings.

Now, he's about to give it all up and move to Canada.

Cashing in

Over a cup of tea, he tells me that the future of his trade appears bleak.

"It's becoming very difficult to farm in Punjab. We are working against all odds. We have endless power cuts. If we have to depend on generators it's too expensive. Diesel costs are rising all the time.

"There is also no sense of security for people like us, those who have a bit of land."

His wife Jasveen thinks it's best for their little son.

Farmer
The Punjab agricultural university offers special courses for farmers

"I think the system there is much better. There is no sense of law and order here. And then there is the education opportunities which will be much better for our child," she says.

But while life in Punjab is indeed becoming harder, the Singhs are also cashing in on a real estate boom.

With the value of land increasing, they are able to generate enough money by selling a part of their farm to buy a farm of their own in Canada.

"Land has become so valuable here now that even if you sell five to six acres here you can buy thousands of acres there.

"About five years ago this land would have given me $13,000 per acre. Now it's gone up to $220,000 per acre. It's becoming so expensive that it's not worth farming on anymore."

It's a realisation that is dawning across a whole generation of Punjabi farmers. With real estate developers eyeing vast tracts of farmland across Punjab, many here are tempted to sell their land and move on.

A helping hand

And there are a number of immigration agencies all across Punjab which can help them avail of the opportunities and also make the transition.

One of the biggest is the World Wide Immigration Consultancy Services which operates out of a vast complex in the Punjab capital, Chandigarh, that was once a television manufacturing factory.

The call centre operators assist prospective immigrants over the phone after which they are helped with the daunting application process, which can sometimes take several years.

Retired government official JS Ahluwalia explains why there is growing demand for farmers in Canada.

"They need immigrants because by 2016 the rate of growth of their population will be negative," he says.

Many farms in Canada are being abandoned because their owners are too old and the next generation has switched careers or migrated to the cities.

"So they need outsiders to come in and do the job. We are one of the countries providing it," he adds.

So with an investment of 150,000 Canadian dollars ($130,000), a farmer in Punjab can buy a farm in Canada.

Tractor
A sprawling farm in Punjab

The Canadian High Commission in Delhi is one of the country's biggest missions. Only the embassy in China generates more immigrant visas.

On most days you can spot a crowd of turbaned Punjabi men squatting on the lawns outside it, waiting to be called in for a visa interview.

Trudy Kerningham heads the immigration section at the commission and sheds light on what they can expect.

"If someone is going to purchase a farm in Canada, have they done their research? Do they have the skills, the money? Do they understand the whole management of a Canadian farm? While they may be very experienced in Punjab, does that translate to managing a farm in Canada?"

Training

So it's not surprising that the Punjab Agricultural University is now offering specialised courses in mechanical farming, growing exotic fruit and vegetables and farming practices in the West.

"We download material from the internet on issues concerning farmers in Canada for our students," says Professor Bhalla.

Punjab farmers
At a classroom offering specialised courses in mechanical farming

"We teach them about the soil, the kind of crops they have there and the marketing of farm produce."

"It's very useful information," says Jagroop Singh Bainwal, who grows wheat in his farm in Ludhiana.

"Especially because it's in Punjabi. My English isn't very good," he adds.

It may take the farmers a while to adjust to life in the Canadian prairie which is a long way from the sun-baked plains of Punjab.

But with more and more Punjabis settling there, it's only a short time before it becomes a home away from home, as Harkirat Singh discovered during a recent visit.

"I was in Gerrard street in Toronto and I was amazed to see the shops selling samosas and jalebis and to hear loud Punjabi music.

"Driving into Vancouver we were greeted by large signs in Punjabi as well as English saying 'Welcome to Canada'.

"I'm raring to go."


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