Punjab fails to grow in agri sector
It is a law of diminishing returns for the farmers of Punjab with agricultural production “reaching a plateau”, soil health deteriorating owing to continuation of wheat-paddy rotation, net irrigated area fully exploited and cropping intensity reaching saturation point.
If this was not enough, the higher yield per unit area is reducing the soil nutrients, agriculture’s contribution in State’s gross domestic product is declining continuously, intensive farming causing water table depletion, reckless use of fertilisers has also deteriorated productivity and contaminated water bodies — all this and much more has been highlighted in the State’s latest Economic Survey.
Calling for a “concrete programme of diversification”, the Survey has drawn attention towards other set of problems that Punjab’s agriculture sector is facing at present, and which definitely requires “immediate attention”.
These include, dominance of wheat and paddy in food grains, stagnating productivity, absence of breakthrough in new high yielding varieties, strains on marketing infrastructure, dwindling groundwater resources, and decline in profitability.
The Economic Survey has also demanded “raising value addition in each agro-climatic region of Punjab depending on the health of the soil and availability of water needs to be developed”.
Experts, on the other hand, have a contrary opinion, claiming that agriculture “never becomes stagnant, it is dynamic,” Dr Gurmail Singh, agriculture expert, said that by bringing in better technology, advanced methods, the productivity and yield would be improved.
Experts are also of the view that areas where the State needs to focus are its research and development strategies to improve agricultural position, the Centre should assist the State in diversification of cropping pattern as “without assured procurement for alternate crops, farmers will not abandon the rice-wheat cropping pattern”.
Interestingly, the State Government in its Budget 2013-14 increased the outlay of the Punjab Agriculatural University (PAU) from Rs189 crore in 2012-13 to Rs300 crore for the fiscal 2013-14.
Survey pointed out that primary sector’s contribution, comprising mainly agriculture and allied activities, in the State’s GDP has witnessed a dip continuously — from 32.67 per cent in 2004-05 to 21.83 per cent in 2012-13.
The fall has also been witnessed in the water table. In 9,058 square kms of central Punjab, it has gone down more than 20 metres during the last decade. Various studies revealed that utilisation of water in Punjab is more than its recharge rate.
Due to this, 110 blocks, out of a total of 138, have been declared over-exploited, three critical, two semi-critical and 23 as safe according to the Central Ground Water Board.
Predominantly an agrarian economy, Punjab has “overused” its irrigation facilities — to increase agriculture production mainly wheat and paddy, resulting drastically in the fall of groundwater level.
With around 98 per cent of cropped area already under irrigation and around 13.83 lakh tubewells irrigating about 73 per cent of total irrigated area, the survey pressed for an urgent need to “optimise utilisation of available surface water through augmentation of old canal system”.
Considering that State’s farmers are among the “most heavily” debt-burdened in India, which is estimated to be more than Rs35,000 crore, the report pointed out that NABARD has not been helpful to the farmers as it has increased interest rate on Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) loans from 6.5 % to 7.5 per cent, and also rate of interest on long-term loans refinanced by NABARD is 9.9 per cent — burdening already-burdened farmers.
However, the Economic Survey also signaled some prospects in the field of agriculture. It acknowledged Punjab’s “considerable progress” in food grains production, State Government’s efforts in popularising low water conservation techniques — zero tillage technology, raised bed plantations, and sprinkler irrigation, ban on burning crop residue resulting in improving soil fertility, implementation of Punjab Prevention of Sub-Soil Water Act, 2009, ban on new tube well connections to improve groundwater resources, among other things.
“The State Government is taking a number of measures to check the depleting water table like construction of low cost dams, micro irrigation schemes, recharge of rain water, diversification of crops,” read the Survey.
It maintained that to improve soil health, it is necessary to add organic matter in the form of farm yard manure, green manuring, and incorporation of crop residual as well as optimise soil testing.
Notwithstanding the State has considerably failed to reap the benefits of soil testing facilities affecting the soil yield as the number of soil testing labs has declined over the time, and farmers continue to use fertilizers ‘injudiciously’ at a high rate, producing ‘injurious’ food.
Notably, Punjab is a major consumer of fertilizers in the country with average consumption of 242 kg per hectare.
Moving towards diversification, the Survey highlighted that the State Government has successfully brought 2.79 lakh hectares under horticulture, 1,034.85 hectares under fish culture, besides series of steps to develop dairy farming.
Besides, the Centre’s decision to set up Borlaug Institute for South Asia (BISA) for Wheat and Maize in Ludhiana is expected to give a fillip to research in new areas and help the State in achieving the new productivity levels.
The State Government is also pursuing the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to shift its Directorate of Maize Research (DMR) to Ladhowal in Ludhiana, adjoining the proposed site of BISA.
The move is expected to strengthen research on Maize and encourage the farmers in shifting from paddy to maize crop, says the survey.
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