The Punjab government wants to promote crop diversification and wean away farmers from the traditional wheat-paddy rotation in view of the declining groundwater table, but this effort, to some extent, is being defeated by the meagre increase in the minimum support price (MSP) of cotton. As cotton cultivation is proving non-profitable, more and more cotton growers are opting for cultivation of paddy as the crop has seen better increase in its MSP compared to that of cotton.
The MSP of cotton has seen only about 1.25% increase from Rs 4,000 per quintal last year to Rs 4,050 this year, while paddy has seen about 4% increase from Rs 1,345 last year to Rs 1,400 this year.
Cotton sees a big variation in its prices as most of the produce is procured by private traders, at higher prices than MSP. If growers sell the entire produce at MSP, growers will suffer losses on this labour-intensive crop.
"The minimum support price of cotton should be at least Rs 6,000 per quintal if the government wants to promote cultivation cotton in place of paddy. Cotton is a labour-intensive crop and carries less MSP, so most of the farmers prefer paddy than cotton and the area under it has largely shrunk.
Now, only those farmers, who cannot cater to irrigation needs of paddy or have sandy soil, cultivate cotton," said Naib Singh Ghania, an office-bearer of a kisan union.
"The lower MSP of Rs 4,050 leaves farmers totally dependent on private traders as their rates are always a bit higher than MSP, but lower than the farmers expect for it," says Naib.
"The minimum price of cotton does not have much significance for cotton growers because it is too less to attract them and, usually, prices of cotton in the market remain above it. Last year, cotton was sold at around Rs 5,000 per quintal, so government agencies did not enter the market," said Mohinder Kumar Bansal, a commission agent from Faridkot.
"Paddy instills a feeling of security among farmers with sure returns due to its certain yield and MSP at which it is procured while cotton MSP assures them less returns than paddy as its prices vary as per the situation in the international market. So, they prefer paddy over cotton," said Atma Singh Sidhu, district agriculture officer (marketing), Faridkot.
The MSP of paddy has seen a 63% increase from 2008 to 2014, from Rs 880 to Rs 1,400 this year, while cotton has seen only about 35% increase from Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,050 this year, during the last six years.
"The government provides free-of-cost power to nurture the paddy crop but there is no such incentive cotton. Even no subsidy is provided on the costly BT seeds of cotton.
Due to this, the maximum possible area has fallen under paddy," said Sukhdeep Singh, a farmer from Surghuri village.
"Labour shortage is also a problem for manual picking of cotton," he added.