Crop diversification push in Punjab hits a roadblock
Efforts of the Punjab government to push crop diversification after wheat harvesting this year has hit a roadblock
Efforts of the Punjab government to push crop diversification after wheat harvesting this year has hit a roadblock. This time the acreage of the traditional crop of cotton has touched 1.80 lakh hectares or 4.50 lakh acres, the lowest ever since 2010 while the area under summer moong or green gram has also shrunk to 21,000 hectares or 52,500 acres from 52,000 hectares or 1.30 lakh acres in 2022. Experts said a drop in cultivation of the two crops means direct stress on water when the government is trying hard to save on the natural resource.
Officials said the state authorities had set a target to bring 3-lakh hectares under cotton in 2023-24 kharif cycle but they could not even go near last year’s figure, when white gold was sown on 2.47 lakh hectares in the Malwa region.
State agriculture director, Gurvinder Singh said that a significant drop in cotton acreage in the semi-arid belt in the southwest region of the state would drift towards the water-intensive cultivation of rice. In 2022, basmati was sown on 4.6 lakh hectares and the area may surge to 7-lakh hectares after cotton acreage has come down as farmers want to take advantage of handsome returns from the aromatic rice variety, he added.
“This year the climatic conditions played a spoilsport as the wheat harvesting was delayed due to rains in April. In the later weeks of May again, untimely rains delayed the sowing of cotton. Owing to hostile climatic conditions and pest infestations, the confidence of farmers was shaken after two consecutive failed crop seasons,” he said.
The director said the department is devising solutions to problems on short, medium and long-term challenges in crop diversification.
“Unlike 2022, the area under summer moong dropped due to delayed wheat harvesting. Diversification of crops is the key and we are chalking out a viable mechanism where farmers adopt sowing of different with some incentive from the government. An upcoming state agriculture policy will address challenges before the crop diversification,” he added.
According to the official data, Bathinda had set a target to expand the area under cotton from 70,000 hectares in 2022-23 to 80,000 this season.
“But it stopped at 40,000 hectares as farmers lost confidence in cotton cultivation. In the last two consecutive seasons, cotton yield was severely hit due to infestation of the deadly pink bollworm and whitefly. Loss of 30,000 hectares or 75,000 acres will go towards paddy cultivation. After heavy financial loss during last few years, farmers are eyeing assured income from growing non-basmati varieties,” said Bathinda’s chief agriculture officer Dilbag Singh on Sunday.
Similarly, officials were hopeful that the cotton area in Mansa would increase from 47,000 hectares in 2022 to 60,000 hectares this year. But data says farmers have sown cotton only in 26,000 hectares in the district.
Chief agriculture officer (CAO) of Mansa, Satpal Singh said out of the traditional cotton acreage, about 10,000 hectares in Sardulgarh and Bhikhi blocks is expected to come under basmati.
According to Muktsar CAO Gurpreet Singh, the department worked to enhance the cotton area from 33,000 hectares to 50,000 hectares but farmers stepped away from the traditional crop this season.
“Contrary to expectations, Muktsar could barely touch 19,000 hectares. Inspite of ensuring timely canal water and distribution of subsidised seeds, farmers opted to stay from sowing the traditional kharif crop of the region. Our extension teams worked hard but the cotton growers remained unconvinced. We expect cotton growers will shift to basmati crop,” said the official.
With 90,000 hectares under cotton, Fazilka recorded half of the total area under the crop in Punjab this season.
“Farmers in the dry region of Abohar in Fazilka have little option than to sow cotton. Whereas in the rest of the region, farmers switched away from cotton wherever irrigation facilities were better,” said a district official.
Moong cultivation Officials said a hasty political decision to boost green gram in 2022 had a direct fallout on the legume and cotton this year. “Green gram is a host plant of the deadly whitefly and it was not sown in the southwest Punjab districts after the pest attack caused severe loss of production of cotton. In 2022, the state government announced buying moong on MSP and the diversification push witnessed a jump of 26% than the previous year. But the promotion of legumes caused a widespread infestation of whitefly forcing the government to step back on a push of the moong in the cotton-growing belt,” said an official.
Another functionary of the agriculture department said as only 14% of the 4.05 lakh quintal legume produced last year was purchased on the MSP, farmers have not shown much interest in sowing green gram this time. “Data shows that this time, the area under the legume was a mere 21,000 hectares which is less than half what was in 2022. As most of the crop was bought below the MSP, farmers felt demotivated to try sowing green gram,” he added.