New Delhi, June 11: With the possible exception of Sharad Pawar, never has an incumbent in the Agriculture Ministry evoked such awe and veneration as the new entrant Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who transformed the former BIMARU province of Madhya Pradesh into among the most productive agricultural States in the country.

The soft-spoken Chouhan, fondly called ‘Mamaji (uncle)’ for his affable nature and instant connect with the rural folk, has only one parallel in history with Pratap Singh Kairon, the iconic Chief Minister of Punjab who was credited with the post-Independence growth of Punjab as the food bowl of India.

In his largely unbroken tenure as Chief Minister since the end of 2005 until 2023, Chouhan worked systematically to propel Madhya Pradesh’s farm sector growth to a higher level even than the national average. During 2013-14 to 2022-23, Madhya Pradesh’s agriculture sector registered an average annual growth of 6.1 per cent, more than the national average fo 3.9 per cent for these ten years.

Despite his achievements, Chouhan remains as humble as he was before India’s farm sector recognised his sterling contributions. On his first day in office on Tuesday, he ascribed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi the direction that his department is working on. “Under Modi’s leadership, the work for farmers’ welfare has been continuing, so as the work on rural development. Government is in continuity. Better works have been done in (last) ten years. We have given a roadmap in the Sankalp Patra (equivalent of manifesto) and will take that forward... Because it is not that if a new minister comes, he will do something new. There is continuity in work,” he said.

But, people who have worked with him say that Chouhan loves to take on challenges and works on deadlines.

An officer, who had accompanied Chouhan in 2009-10 to meet the then agriculture and food minister Sharad Pawar, said: “Pawar had advised him to ensure higher production of wheat to make the state self sufficient and not depend on the Centre. It touched a nerve and after that meeting, he resolved to make MP a big surplus state in wheat.”

To this end, Chouhan brought in additional 40 lakh hectares of land under irrigation so that wheat can be grown since it is a Rabi crop and assured water is a must. Under his watch, wheat procurement in Madhya Pradesh reached a record 12.94 million tonnes (mt) in 2020-21, surpassing even top contributor Punjab in that year.

Not just wheat, even in rice procurement MP has reached 3.1 mt in 2022-23 (October-September) from 0.21 mt in 2009-10.

Madhya Pradesh is among top three producers in wheat, maize, chana, urad, moong, masur, soyabean and mustard during 2023-24 crop year (July-June). It also at number one position in many of the pulses crops.

With the farmers union once again threatening to resume their protest soon, Chouhan has his task cut out. But if his past work is any indication, he would meet the challenge head on.