A group of three Union ministers suggested crop diversification to farmers in Punjab and Haryana, assuring that the government will buy pulses, maize, and cotton crops at minimum support prices for five years after entering into an agreement with farmers.

Union Minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal, along with Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister Arjun Munda, and Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai held the fourth round of talks with farmer leaders on Sunday evening over their demands, including a legal MSP guarantee, as thousands of farmers were protesting at the Punjab-Haryana border.

"With new ideas and thoughts, we had a positive discussion with Bhartiya Kisan Mazdoor Union and other farmers' leaders. We had a detailed discussion on how to carry forward the work done by PM Modi in the last 10 years," Goyal says on meeting farmer leaders.

"The discussions were held in a very good environment and we discussed new ideas, which are in the interest of the farmers. The farmer union representatives have given some positive suggestions, which will benefit the farmers of Punjab, Haryana, as well as the farmers, economy and consumers of the country," he says.

Goyal says the government wants Punjab farmers to grow cotton. "If any farmer who switches to cotton, the Cotton Corporation of India will enter a 5-year legal agreement with farmers to buy the crop at MSP."

"We have together proposed a very innovative, out-of-the-box idea...The government-promoted cooperative societies like NCCF (National Cooperative Consumers' Federation of India) and NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India) will form a contract for the next 5 years and buy products from the farmers on MSP. There will be no limit on the quantity," he says.

The suggested diversification of crops will improve the depleting water table in Punjab and prevent the land from becoming barren, Goyal says, adding that this will also increase the incomes of farmers.

"The farmers' union will tell us their decision by morning. We will also have discussions with NCCF (National Cooperative Consumers' Federation of India) and NAFED after returning to Delhi," Goyal says.

The farmer leaders say they will discuss the government's proposal in their forums over the next two days and thereafter, decide the future course of action.

In the last ten years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has worked for the benefit of Indian farmers, says Union minister Goyal. "MSP on crops has been hiked from ₹5.5 lakh crore between 2004 and 2014 to ₹18 lakh crore since 2014. Under PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi, ₹2.8 lakh crore has been given to 11 crore farmers," he says.

The protesting farmers say their 'Delhi Chalo' march has now been put on 'standby' till February 21 after the Centre offered a five-year MSP proposal.

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