Crop Diversification In Punjab
Finally, the government of Punjab has woken up to the fact that the paddy-wheat cycle will not go on for ever, and has convened a meeting at the highest level to draw up a road map for crop diversification in a manner which ensures that incomes and livelihoods are not lost, and that Punjab’s agriculture again becomes a growth driver in the economy of Punjab. The alarm bells have been ringing for quite a while, but the steep decline of water table, coupled with scanty and erratic rainfall has compelled the government to take harsh decisions.
It is also important to place some facts in perspective. Punjab was in the forefront of the Green Revolution, and through the seventies to mid-eighties, production, productivity and profitability of the farms were on the rise. However, after that cost of production rose higher than the procuremtn prices, and from the mid-nineties, the agricultural economy took a hit. In fact over the last decade, over two lakh farmers, (mainly those with an operational holding of less than two hectares) have quit farming as it is no longer a viable proposition. However, this does not tell the whole story. The big picture that emerges is that in 1990-91, marginal and small farmers constituted nearly half the farming families of Punjab. By 2000-01, they were less than one third of the farming families. Figures for the 2010-11 are not available, but going by anecdotal evidence, it appears that farming in Punjab is now mainly in the hands of the medium to large farmers, who have a higher risk-bearing ability, besides having a ‘controlling stake ‘in the political economy of Punjab. In other words, they can steer institutional changes that can make agriculture viable again.
How can agriculture become viable? Not by the conventional wheat paddy cycle, because demand for cereals is not growing, and the competitive advantage of Punjab, especially in paddy, is being challenged by the water surplus eastern region. The shrinking water table makes long-term dependence on paddy wheat cycle almost suicidal. But as they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining. And the silver lining in this case is that the demand for High Value Agriculture, especially in dairy and horticulture is growing by 3.5 to 5 per cent per annum, and Punjab is eminently suited to make the transition by diversifying its cropping pattern. The growing urbanisation in the state as also the presence of Nestle’s milk facility in Moga (Ludhiana) and the extensive network of Verka (Punjab Milk Federation) ensures that milk producers have a ready market. Therefore, large areas under paddy can be used for growing fodder, and commercial dairy projects can be encouraged in a big way, because they are also ecologically more sustainable than paddy production. Another advantage of the dairying sector is that the farmer does not have to wait for four to six months to get the realisation from the produce and this improves the liquidity of the farmer. Milk is also more responsive to markets, and the value-added products from milk have the potential of increasing farmers incomes manifold.
In addition to fodder, maize and pulses also offer good potential. The demand for both these commodities is growing—and marketing is not an issue.
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)