ON FARM FRONT Food security of the nation continues to be in the hands of Punjab that contributes the maximum share of wheat to the central pool but its farmers need reforms, not sops, to find a way out of the debt trap. Haryana started at a disadvantage but is gaining ground though the state govt’s role leaves much to be desired.
Punjab awaits another revolution
The tumultuous trifurcation of Punjab in 1966 coincided with the Green Revolution, which was nurtured by the Bhakra dam, the newly built Punjab Agricultural University and consolidation of lands. Agriculture remained in the spotlight through the state’s 50-year journey since the reorganisation.
From the golden era when Punjab was the biggest contributor to the national food kitty to the sad state where debt-ridden farmers commit suicide, the state has seen it all in half a century. Today, 10 lakh farmers shoulder a debt of Rs 37,000 crore.
This rollercoaster journey of agriculture began with farmers reaping prosperity by sowing new high-yielding varieties of wheat and paddy during the ’60s and ’70s when the per acre yield tripled.
With abundant sub soil water, paddy, which was not a native of Punjab, became part of the crop cycle. The state government started digging tubewells at war pace to feed the water-guzzling paddy. From 11,000 tubewells in 1966 to 2 lakh by 1971 and 14 lakh as Punjab completes 50 years.
The upsurge in productivity turned the state into a major contributor of foodgrains to the national pool with wheat touching 78.5% and paddy 60% of the contribution.
Till the ’90s, it was ‘balle-balle (a good time)’ for farmers.
By 2000, the drivers of the Green Revolution started giving worrying signals as debt accumulated, soil health dwindled, groundwater levels fell, land holdings shrunk.
As troubled times arrived, politicians sensed an opportunity. Government after government doled out sops to woo farmers, giving them free power for running tubewells and offering debt waivers.
Making farming viable
“Agriculture will continue to prosper in Punjab but farmers are becoming poorer and going out of focus,” says GS Kalkat, the chairman of the state farmers’ commission. The former state agriculture director and Punjab Agricultural University vice-chancellor suggests shifting 30 lakh of the 70 lakh acres under paddy cultivation to other crops to save subsoil water as an immediate remedy.
“To make farming viable, we need to make agriculture a part-time avocation for farmers instead of a full-time vocation,” says agriculture economist Sardara Singh Johl, one of the driving forces behind the Green Revolution’s success.
The food security of the nation will continue to be in the hands of Punjab for years to come. This when the state comprises only 1.53% of the nation’s total area. Here, 82% of the land is under cultivation, which is the highest in the world, with a 190% cropping intensity, the highest in India. 99.9% area of Punjab is irrigated against the national average of 46% and the farm sector employs 4.21 lakh people from outside the state.
Kalkat and Johl suggest social reforms for farmers, asking them to cut down on expenses such as on lavish weddings; stop taking unproductive loans; and shifting back to the joint family system, to make agriculture a viable venture again.
Haryana, from food deficit to surplus
Haryana, which produced only 26 lakh tonnes of foodgrains when it was created in 1966, today produces over 163 lakh tonnes. It is no longer Punjab’s poor cousin.
Despite having comparatively less fertile land and scant rainfall in several parts, Haryana, one of the smallest states in the country with 40 lakh hectares, has grown from a food deficient to a food surplus state.
With just 1.5% of the country’s land, its contribution to the central pool is 15% – wheat 58.56 lakh tonnes and rice 23.91 lakh tonnes. It is the second largest contributor to the national food basket.
The agriculture sector contributes 14.5% to the gross state domestic product (GSDP) and provides jobs to 51% of the work force. Agriculture-based industries account for more than 31% of total jobs.
The state enjoys the first position in the production of Basmati rice, pearl millet, rapeseed and mustard.
From 2013-14, Haryana’s GSDP growth rate was 13.8% as against the national average of 11.54%.
The livestock sector contributes to 35% of the agricultural GSDP and the production of milk and eggs has increased by five times and 160 times, respectively, since the state’s formation, says RS Dalal, the member secretary of the Haryana Kisan Ayog.
In the last decade, the state has shown promising growth in poultry and fisheries. The state has 4.8 crore poultry birds for eggs and meat production. Haryana is second in inland fish productivity in India with 10,000 fish farmers producing 1.1 lakh tonnes of fish in 17,016 hectares of inland water area.
With 4.8 lakh hectares under cauliflower, onion, potato, tomato, chilli, guava and kinnow, the horticulture production stood at 74 lakh tonnes from 2015-16. “Traditional knowledge and modern-farming practices have put Haryana in an enviable position,” says AS Saini, the director general, horticulture. “The government now plans to address the issues of management, quality, grades and standards and agribusiness. The aim is to diversify further and bring farmers together. There needs to be technology penetration at various levels,” Saini says.
The progress notwithstanding, experts say that the state has not been extending support to farmers to the extent required. The growth and benefits of agricultural production has not reached the farmer.
Experts also caution against the depletion and damage to natural resources, resulting in a fall in the water table and increase in soil salinity.
With the size of land holdings shrinking due to fragmentation with every generation, making farming viable in Haryana is a challenge. Growing urbanisation eating into farmland and rising cost of cultivation have also hit returns from agriculture in the state.