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Providing assured market a challenge
Labourers gather potatoes in a village on the outskirts of Jalandhar. Tribune photo: Malkiat Singh
agriculture: Crop diversification

Providing assured market a challenge

Growers of alternative crops have a long way to go in Punjab09 Dec 2019 | 7:24 AM

In 1986, when the first report on crop diversification was commissioned by the Punjab Government, the area under water-guzzling paddy was 17.14 lakh hectares; it was 31.12 lakh hectares under wheat. Fast forward to 2018-19. The area under paddy and wheat is 30 lakh and 35 lakh hectares, respectively. The area under horticultural crops is 3.6 lakh hectares, cotton (4 lakh) and sugarcane (1 lakh).

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Ruchika M Khanna

In 1986, when the first report on crop diversification was commissioned by the Punjab Government, the area under water-guzzling paddy was 17.14 lakh hectares; it was 31.12 lakh hectares under wheat. Fast forward to 2018-19. The area under paddy and wheat is 30 lakh and 35 lakh hectares, respectively. The area under horticultural crops is 3.6 lakh hectares, cotton (4 lakh) and sugarcane (1 lakh).

“This shows how crop diversification, the most commonly used term in agriculture policy-making, has remained just a term. No major effort has been made over the years to shift the state’s cropping pattern from the wheat-paddy cycle,” says eminent agro-economist MS Sidhu. He says that till 1986 and for a few more years thence, 13 lakh hectares (out of the 30 lakh hectares now under paddy) was under cotton, maize, sugarcane and horticultural crops. But with market forces and the agriculture policy (Minimum Support Price regime) heavily favouring the wheat-paddy crops, no substantial impact on crop diversification has been seen.

In today’s time, when climate-smart and sustainable agriculture is the way forward, Punjab, the granary of India, too, will have to take strides in this direction. It is not that the state has lacked political will to go in for diversification. Successive governments have promised to save overutilised natural resources being consumed by the wheat-paddy cropping pattern. But the efforts have been few and far between. No wonder the area under crops other than wheat and paddy has shown an almost static growth. A study, Crop Diversification in Punjab Agriculture: A Temporal Analysis, by Jaspal Singh, HS Yadav and Nirmal Singh had highlighted that though diversification is essential for the state, between 1980 and 2009, crop diversification reduced in all districts of the state. In Ropar, which was the most crop-diversified district in 1980-81, the crop diversification index decreased from 0.75 in 1980-81 to 0.646 in 2008-09.

Over the years, noted agro-economist Sardara Singh Johl made detailed crop diversification plans, which included giving compensation to farmers for not growing paddy and wheat, and drawing farmers towards other crops under the crop adjustment programme. However, his plans, though examined at the highest level in the government, have remained mostly on paper. MS Sidhu says that the best option for Punjab, in terms of crop diversification, would be to go in for horticulture, provided we can create cold chain management systems to transport the highly perishable fruits and vegetables. “There are just a few thousand refrigerated vans, which are used mostly for transporting pharmaceuticals, dairy products and meat. The use of these vans to transport perishable fresh fruits and vegetables to far-off markets has not picked up. As a result, farmers are not assured of a proper market for their produce, making them wary of crops for cultivation without an assured market,” he says.

Sanjeev Singh, a mushroom cultivator at Buddhi village near Tanda, who is now referred to as the ‘mushroom king’ of Punjab, however, says that there is an assured market for alternative crops. “It is a matter of demand and supply, and as of now the supply is less than the demand. As a result, profits are huge in alternative crops. My annual turnover from mushroom cultivation is Rs 1 crore, of which Rs 50 lakh is the profit we are making,” he says.

Shailender Kaur, Director, Horticulture, Punjab, says they are making efforts to promote horticulture, and farmers who are going in for crop diversification are reaping rich dividends. “For a change to occur, we need to take small steps in the right direction, and we are doing that. We are partnering with Punjab Agro Industries Corporation to create infrastructure for horticultural crops. As kinnow and potato are the two most important crops in Punjab — after wheat, paddy and cotton — we are promoting these in a big way. Citrus estates have been set up at Abohar, Badal village, Bunga, Hoshiarpur and Pallianwala Jattan in Fazilka. We have started certification and traceability for potato seeds grown in Punjab — a first in the country,” she says.

Horticulture takes root in Haryana

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09 Dec 2019 | 7:24 AM

Horticulture is catching the fancy of farmers in Haryana as some of them are shifting from the traditional pattern of paddy and wheat.

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02 Dec 2019 | 7:28 AM

On the way to Nakodar from Jalandhar city, one witnesses a major change in villages falling under the Lambra circle. Unlike most parts of Punjab where stubble burning was rampant recently and charred fields a common sight along all highways, most farmers of this area refrained from the decades-old practice for the second consecutive year.

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02 Dec 2019 | 7:26 AM

Even as wheat variety HD2967, developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), continues to be popular among farmers due to its high yield, they now have new options of seed varieties like HD3226, WH1184 and DBW187 this rabi season and are hoping to get better returns.

Silver lining amid the smoky haze

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02 Dec 2019 | 7:26 AM

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Environment: Climate Change

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agriculture: Stubble burning

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18 Nov 2019 | 12:09 PM

Deterioration in North India’s air quality during the early winter months has become a regular feature over the past few years. Schools are closed, breathing masks are distributed, construction activities are suspended, vehicle movement is restricted, flights are diverted, and fingers are pointed. A significant amount of blame is laid on farmers in Punjab and Haryana for burning crop residue after paddy harvest.

Cooperative model is the best bet

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18 Nov 2019 | 7:12 AM

Air pollution caused by straw burning is an annual phenomenon. Punjab, the largest producer of rice in the country, is largely blamed for it, but other northern rice-producing states such as Haryana, UP and Delhi are no less responsible. Setting stubble afire is a compulsion for the farmer in view of the adopted cropping pattern. The only reason for burning this asset that can yield income and improve soil fertility is the short window between harvesting of paddy and sowing of wheat.

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