Chief Minister, Your Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I first thank all of you for the wonderful welcome you have given my wife and myself this afternoon. I am so pleased to visit Patiala for the first time and to see another corner of the Punjab. I am only sorry that more than eighty years have passed since a Prince of Wales last visited Patiala, but I am delighted to put this right today.
Today's events are very special for me. I am so pleased to launch Bhumi Vardaan, which will, I hope, play a meaningful role in promoting sustainable agriculture in the Punjab and help to ensure a viable way of life on the land not only for today's farmers but for future generations. I also hope that, in due course, it will be able to contribute something to the welfare of different communities throughout India.
If the Punjab is to remain the bread basket of India, I believe that farming practices must change. They are, as so many people are now acknowledging, quite simply unsustainable. Today many farmers have told me about the dramatic fall in the water table and declining crop yields. Over and above the frightening implications for the environment, there is a dreadful human cost as well. I have been appalled by what I have been hearing in recent years and today about the terrifying number of farmers who, having become so ensnared in a vicious spiral of debt and declining incomes, have been driven to take their own lives. So, if we do not heed these warnings, I fear we all face a bleak and barren future.
Equally, I am confident that Punjabi farmers, with their entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, for which they are renowned around the world, will be more than able to meet these challenges successfully.
It would be tragic if the wonderful countryside I have seen today could no longer support the families who have farmed there for generations. It would be a disaster if this great State could not continue to feed the people of India. And it would be terrifying if a lack of sustainable livelihoods further increased the remorseless drift of people to the unmanageable slums of the big cities. The economic and social repercussions of this are too serious to contemplate.
Bhumi Vardaan will, I hope, demonstrate it is possible to farm in ways which respect the environment and generate decent returns. My own experience in the United Kingdom, both through my farming activities and through my organic food company, Duchy Originals, have convinced me that natural farming, with its crucial emphasis on the health of the soil, is a genuine alternative, with real commercial opportunities for farmers.
At this point, I would just like to express my warmest gratitude to Mr and Mrs Lakshmi Mittal for their great generosity in agreeing to support my foundation. Likewise, I am most appreciative of all those who have shown such interest in this whole enterprise.
Together with you all, I hope that this new Foundation, Bhumi Vardaan, will play some part in securing a future for your children and grandchildren on the land. The agricultural prosperity of Punjab is truly a blessing, a ‘Vardaan', of the Earth, I hope that together we will be able to tell coming generations that we did our utmost to preserve it.