Even as Punjab is keen to project maize as among the best alternatives to paddy under the crop diversification plan, maize farmers in kandi areas, where most of the crop is grown in the state, are suffering losses.
According to a latest study done by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), the economic condition of small and marginal farmers in kandi areas Hoshiarpur, Rupnagar and Nawanshahr districts has been found to be miserable. The surplus income the amount left with farmers after meeting farming and routine domestic expenditure - has shown a negative trend for marginal farmers (annual deficit of Rs. 13,720 per household per acre) and small farmers (loss of Rs. 5,318 per household per annum) in these districts.
A farmer having landholding of less than 1 hectare (2.5 acres) falls in the marginal category, while a small farmer has landholding of 2 hectares or less land (up to 5 acres).
The research, titled "A study into the economics of farming and the pattern of income and expenditure distribution in Punjab agriculture", has been conducted by noted agricultural economist Prof Sukhpal Singh. The study has divided Punjab into three zones. Zone 1 includes the maize-dominated districts of Hoshiarpur, Rupnagar and Nawanshahr; Zone 2 comprises the entire Majha region, besides Ludhiana, Moga, Patiala, Sangrur, SAS Nagar and Fatehgarh Sahib, where paddy dominates the crop pattern with wheat; Zone 3 includes the cotton-belt districts of Mansa, Bathinda, Faridkot, Ferozepur, Fazilka and Muktsar.
As per the data, of the total 1.26 lakh-hectare area under maize in the state this year, 59,000 hectares lies in Hoshiarpur district, 21,000 in Rupnagar and 14,000 in Nawanshahr.
In the paddy-dominated Zone 2, the surplus income for marginal and small farmers is Rs. 33,433 and Rs. 40,398, respectively. Marginal and small farmers are doing rather well in the cotton-rich Zone 3, with surplus income of Rs. 49,233 and Rs. 78,965, respectively.
"In the kandi areas, it cannot be said that small and marginal farmers are facing losses because they are growing maize. Other factors, including crop damage by wild animals and limited marketing are also crucial," said Prof Sukhpal Singh, adding that the PAU and the Punjab government were jointly working on a comprehensive plan to make maize farming more profitable.
Under Punjab's crop diversification scheme, around 5.5 lakh hectares are to be brought under maize in the next five years. This year, only 1.4 lakh hectares have been brought under maize cultivation, even as harvesting has just started.
"There was a time when I used to grow maize on around 20 acres of my land. But in recent years, because of less marketing options for the crop and damage caused by wild animals, farmers' interest in the crop has decreased," said Parmeshwar Aery, a farmer from Mojewal village in Rupnagar district.
As per a national survey on farming, the number of small and marginal farmers in India has gone up, but the figure has gone down in Punjab.
As per the 1991 census, of the 11.17 lakh farm households in Punjab, the number of small and marginal farmers was around 5 lakh. According to the 2005 census, of the total of 10.52 lakh farmers, the number of small farmers decreased to 3 lakh.
"Because of decreasing surplus income, many marginal farmers are leaving farming. Our surveys shows that 22% of them are becoming farm labourers. More than 80% of farmer suicides in Punjab have come from this category alone," said Prof Sukhpal Singh.
In the country, the number of small and marginal farmers was 8.32 crore in 1991. The figure increased to 10.76 crore in 2005.