Implement crop rotation to tackle low farm income

PVS Suryakumar | Updated on September 02, 2021

This can to a large extent ease Punjab’s agrarian crisis

Farmers’ protests have been in the news since December 2020. While they have ebbed now because of the rabi harvest, some information distortion has been happening because of the differing perceptions on how the new farm laws will affect farmers.

Agriculture and Punjab became synonyms after the latter unleashed the Green Revolution, saving India from food dependence on other countries. The Green Revolution was successful because of the legendary hard-working Punjabi farmer, wheat varieties from ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) and CYMMYT Mexico, irrigation, use of fertilisers and pesticides, agricultural extension, support prices and assured public-sector procurement.

After nearly 20 years of the Green Revolution, agrarian crisis gradually gripped Punjab beginning early 1980s. The reasons ascribed are wheat-paddy monoculture, decline in water table because of indiscriminate groundwater use, soil salinity and waterlogging due to excess surface irrigation, liberal use of chemicals, etc. The consequences: environmental degradation, stagnation in output, decline in productivity and farmers’ incomes.

The Punjab Government got experts to study the issue several times. In 2002, Prof. SS Johl suggested that one million hectares from wheat and paddy be shifted to other crops by giving farmers ₹12,500 per hectare. The outcomes were limited because the entire ecosystem was built around wheat and paddy with assured procurement.

With the estimated assured net profit of about ₹57,000 per acre with 33 and 23 quintals of productivity for paddy and wheat, respectively, there is no incentive to diversify into untested crop(s).

Joint effort

The solution to the problem lies in parivartan (change) and implementing crop diversification on a significant geographic scale. But parivartan will be possible only if the State works closely with the Union Government.

A winning argument for the Government could be: parivartan would be evolved iteratively and implemented in one or two districts, with no financial loss to the farmers and with a clear objective of weaning farmers away from the wheat-paddy combination. Selection of the district(s) should be based on receptiveness of farmers who are not 100 per cent entrenched into wheat-paddy growing and procurement at MSP. The implicit assurance is, well-endowed regions like Punjab will continue to contribute to the food security of the nation but with sustainable agricultural practices to make farmers’ income resilient.

Crop combinations, allied activities and land equivalent ratios will have to be developed based on the best research practices of the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU). Agricultural extension, Farmer Field Schools (FFSs), direct payments to farmers as set-offs (or incentives for change over to sustainable crops), private procurement mechanism, etc., will be integral components of the programme.

FFS must be the bed rock of parivartan. There must be at least 10 one-acre plots in all identified villages. The cost of raising crops will be borne by the project, but yield belongs to the farmer. The marketing arrangements must be in place ab initio and the prospective private buyers should be part of the extension effort and the FFS. A robust communication campaign is a must.

A detailed institutional arrangement for parivartan has to be evolved, with touch points in each village and administrative arrangements at the district and State levels. The project management unit must consist of administrators, civil society and professionals from agriculture and communication. Parivartan should run for about five years. Project costing, time-lines and outcomes must be worked out based on detailed baseline survey and recommendations from PAU. An eminent economist averred that, to consolidate changes, incentive of ₹20,000 per farmer/hectare/year for a five-year period will be required.

Project formulators must factor the savings in power and fertiliser subsidies. Learnings from this programme will be of immense value for the government(s) as it will be transforming its role to a regulator and arbitrator of disputes from being a party to production and procurement. Parivartan should be supported through a soft loan to the State Government.

The writer is Deputy Managing Director, NABARD

Published on September 01, 2021

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