The area under cultivation for maize (makki) and mustard (sarson) has dwindled drastically in Punjab despite the state government's push for breaking the wheat and paddy cycle and encouraging diversification of crops.
This in turn has also affected the food pattern in the state.
Come winters makki di roti (coarse maize bread) and sarson da saag (mustard plant) were culinary delights that were savoured in every household of the state earlier, but with time this practice is changing and the erstwhile culinary delight is now mostly confined to restaurants serving them to eager customers.
A look at the data compiled by the department of food processing Punjab shows that from 550,000 hectares of land that was under maize cultivation in the state in 1979-80, the area dwindled to around 120,000 hectares in the 2012-13 which further went down in the year 2014 due to faulty government policies.
In the fifth five-year plan the state government envisaged to get back the area under maize cultivation back to 550,000 hectares and announced a substantial minimum support price for maize in 2013, but the failed to create efficient marketing infrastructure and mechanism to encourage maize cultivators which resulted in weak responde towards the crop in 2014.
Dr KS Bawa, senior medical officer, civil hospital Jalandhar said, "The food consumption pattern of the people in the state has changed drastically in the past one decade. Coarse food has been replaced by polished and processed food and also the use of cheese and mayonnaise has increased as lots of people from the state have been travelling abroad."
In the past few years the civil hospital has witnessed a surge in deaths due to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, depression, strokes and cardiovascular problems and the main reason to worry is that the mean age of the patients is going down. One of the major factors behind this is lifestyle disorder is the changing food pattern.
As for rapeseed mustard which was once cultivated in 158,000 hectares of land came down to meager 35,000 hectares in the year 2013 and it further dwindled in the year 2014. The department of food processing doesn't even register mustard as an oilseed being grown in the state as it is mostly being cultivated by farmers for personal consumption as commercial farming has shifted to drier areas of Rajasthan.
"It is wrong to say that maize cultivation has dwindled but area under maize cultivation has been cut down by the farmers. Earlier the yield of maize was around 3 to 5 tonnes per hectare but now due to scientific intervention yield has gone up to 10 to 12 tonnes per hectare," said Jaswinder Singh Sangha, a farmer in the state.
"The production is bumper but the farmer fails to reap benefit from his harvest and hence they are reducing the land under maize cultivation. The government fixed a minimum support price of `1,310 per quintal, for maize in the year 2013, but the procurement process was not initiated properly. Hence the commission agents bought the crop for `700 to 800 from farmers as they needed money for sowing paddy which is a secured harvest," he added.
Maize is generally used as poultry feed and is required for the starch industry.
Due to the poor response from traders farmers further brought down the area under maize cultivation in 20`4 despite the high MSP of Rs 1,310, which is equivalent to coarse paddy.
Swantantra Kumar Aeri, chief agriculture officer Jalandhar said, "It is not that rapeseed mustard is not being sown in the area. We have asked the farmers to practice under cropping and mixed cropping to encourage diversification and the practice is getting popular by the day."
However, Balram Singh, a farmer who have been sowing rapeseed mustard since 1990 said, "The demand for rapeseed mustard in the state is almost negligent and it is mostly procured by local millers. There is also no MSP on mustard and hence farmers in the state have lost their interest in sowing mustard."
"The farmers prefer to sow crops which will earn them quick profits as there is easy availability of water in the region both being irrigated by canal water and deep submersible pumps. In wake of this mustard cultivation, which is done in dry lands, has shifted to Rajasthan."
Due to the apathy of both the center and the state government farmers have indulged in water intensive farming. For instance the state government does not provide subsidised electricity after paddy harvest, as a result of which farmers are sowing other water intensive crops during the wheat and paddy interval, which can fetch them a good price.