Crop diversification in Punjab, it seems, is restricted to political slogans and experts’ discussions. Instead of reduction in area under paddy cultivation — that is seen as an urgent need to check falling subsoil water level — the state is witnessing an opposite trend.
Figures obtained from the state departments of agriculture and food and civil supplies reveal that paddy has eaten into area under basmati cultivation in Tarn Taran and that under cotton in Fazilka.
While production of this water-intensive crop in Fazilka has more than doubled to 2.22 lakh tonne in the current kharif season from 1 lakh tonne in 201516, the area under cotton came down by 50,000 hectare in the district this year, from 86,000 hectares to 36,000 hectare.
Similarly, in Tarn Taran, area under basmati has reduced considerably from 1.18 lakh hectare in 2015-16 to 67,000 hectare this season. Paddy production in the district has meanwhile gone up from 3.6 lakh tonne to 5.6 lakh tonne. There’s considerable increase in area under paddy in both the districts.
In a decade, the total area under paddy cultivation has in fact increased by more than 15% -- from 25 lakh hectares in 2006-07 to 30 lakh hectares in the current season.
EXPERTS RAISE CONCERN OVER ‘SUICIDAL’ TREND
Experts have raised concern over this trend. They feel this non-native crop may bring “momentary respite” to farmers in the state, but the trend is suicidal and would “spell doom for Punjab”. Over 13 lakh agriculture tubewells in the state that facilitate paddy cultivation are leading to fast depletion of subsoil water.
“We are not diversifying, but becoming specialist, which is a suicidal trend. There’s urgent need to offer support price on crops other than wheat and paddy to motivate farmers to grow other crops,” says Punjab state farmers commission consultant PS Rangi.
While it takes over 3,500 litre water to produce 1-kg paddy, the same amount of basmati can be obtained for a third of that water requirement. Cotton, meanwhile, needs negligible water.
“Farmers are jubilant, as it’s a bumper crop (expected to touch an all-time high of 186 lakh tonne) since Punjab started growing paddy to herald green revolution, but it’s not the food for future generations,” says Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) vice-chancellor Dr BS Dhillon, who advocates crop diversification in state.
‘WHITE GOLD’ SHINES
Despite fall in area under cotton by over 80,000 hectares — from 3.39 lakh hectares last season to 2.56 lakh hectares in the current season — the total production this season is expected to touch 9 lakh bales, as cotton starts arriving in mandis.Last year, due to whitefly attack, the production had dipped to 3.93 lakh bales. “I am feeling lucky that the production this year has jumped; otherwise farmers would have dumped cotton crop completely, and it would have been difficult to bring them back,” said agriculture director JS Bains.