|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, May 7, 2001, Chandigarh, India|
Ground water crisis in the offing
Post-harvest handling of ber
Small farmers in WTO environment
SMALL farmer implies that category of farmers who own holding of less than five acres. The number of such farmers in the country exceeds six crores and in Punjab they constitute 45 per cent of the farming community of the state.
Due to continuing division of land holdings their number is steadily increasing and during the 20 years from 1971 to 1991, an increase in small holdings of 49.59 per cent occurred. The reduction in the number of this category is also going on due the small farmers selling their land to big or large farmers and adopting other professions as they found the earning from small holdings not enough to make both ends meet.
Farm economists and associated experts have classed this category of farmers as "endangered species" needing protection, lest they should vanish altogether. A large number of suicide cases are reported from members of this category of farmers and their toll is put at 380. Most of the suicide cases are reported from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Haryana. About 80 cases have taken place in Punjab.
With the new environment emerging after enforcement of the WTO provisions from April 1, 2001, when free trade in several commodities of agricultural produce has been allowed, this is going to affect the most important "lifeline" of the MSP (minimum support price) for foodgrains. In this write-up an attempt is made to examine the chances of survival of small farmers.
Status of this group in pre-WTO period
A study presented at a national seminar on "small farmers: their problems and remedies" held in Panjab University, Chandigarh, in March, 2001, the following picture of small farmers was painted.
The average size of his holding is put at 3.86 acres, family size between five and six members and his annual cash receipts amounting to Rs 48,624. But his annual expenditure is around Rs 59,417 i.e. an annual debt of Rs 10,793, for which he obtains loans from the informal sector or arhtias at an interest rate as high as 24 per cent. His yearly burden in the form of payment of interest on the accumulated debt burden is put at Rs 1,897 per acre and the accumulated debt of Rs 10,105 per acre.
The present-day outstanding debt burden of this category of farmers is put at Rs 1,230 crore in Punjab alone and the repayment position is not very bright. The short-term loans to the extent of 70 per cent are outstanding and more than 13 per cent of farmers of this category have mortgaged their land.
In order to find out the reason of indebtness of small farmers, their behaviour was compared with that of their rich neighbours i.e. large farmers having holdings larger than 15 acres. Though the per capita income of the small farmers is one-fourth of that of the per capita income of larger farmers, the expenditure per head in the case of the small farmer’s family is about 5 per cent more than that of the large farmer’s family.
The tendency to outshine the rich neighbour is the main cause of the troubles of small farmers in Punjab, the seminar concluded.
Accruing benefits from subsidies like "free water" to the category of farmers under discussion are marginal as per the findings of the PAU. This category of farmers does not own tubewells and gets water from tubewell owners who, though are getting free electricity for running the tubewells, charge money from the farmers sharing water under the pretext of maintenance cost and part of the capital cost incurred on installing tubewells. The prevalent rate is between Rs 100 and Rs 200 per hour for a 5-HP tubewell.
Diversification and value addition
This category of farmers is advised day-in and day-out’ to go in for diversification and value addition as a remedy for their ailment. But nobody bothers to find out if infrastructure is available for this purpose.
Considerable time and effort on the part of the small farmer goes in the post-harvesting activity. The small farmer has little option except to concentrate on foodgrain production which covers more than 85 per cent of his land.
A bold realisation on the part of the government is needed to enable the farmers to go in for value addition. This will require doing away with the rigid system of control over the foodgrain procurement and its movement, particularly the compulsion of marketing of the foodgrains through marketing committees.
The agricultural produce should be permitted to be sold right in the fields like other cash crops whether to retail or bulk purchase by some intermediary agency who will undertake value addition measures jointly with the small farmers’ societies. The cost savings by the farmers in avoiding post-harvest activities will be substantial and the combined effect of the two measures will provide a substantial relief to the already stressed community of small farmers.
Post WTO scenario: impact on small farming community
While analysing the impact of the WTO provisions on agriculture one has to consider the specific situation of that part of the agricultural sector where the farmers do not have any exportable surplus due to their small holdings. Hence, one is tempted to conclude that this category will not be affected by the measures introduced by the WTO provisions and counter-measures that may be taken by the national government will provide the needed level of protection.
Reduced domestic support
Under the provisions of the WTO agreement, if the product specific and non-product specific AMS (aggregate measure of support) exceeds 10 per cent in the case of a developing country, then it would have to be reduced by 13.3 per cent.
Comparing the prevailing MSP and the international foodgrain rates: the MSP for wheat is Rs 610 per quintal, while the international price of wheat is Rs 430 per quintal, the AMS reduction cannot be held for long. This will the only lifeline available to the small farmers so the condition of the endangered species is bound to become worse in the WTO environment. Will he survive is the question whose answer currently is in the negative. He will have to pack up and fade away from the scene.
Ground water crisis in the offing
AS much as 87 per cent of the annual fresh water supplies in low-income countries is consumed in agriculture, while the middle-income countries use three-fourths of the available water. On the other hand, the high-income nations use 59 per cent of their water resources for agriculture.
The water situation in India seems to be going from bad to worse. Not only is there a growing scarcity of water in the country, the agriculturally-important states of Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan are facing a steady fall in their ground water levels.
While the per capita water availability in India in 1947 was 6008 cubic metres a year, 50 years later it was down to 2266 cubic metres. This is still above the danger level that is 1700 cubic metres when the situation is designated as water stress. The water scarcity level is reached when the per capita availability goes down to 1000 cubic metres and it is absolute scarcity at 500 cubic metres. These are the findings of a study conducted by the Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI).
Depletion of the ground water level, however, is a cause of concern for India as its agriculture depends overwhelmingly on this source of water. One estimate has it that ground water sources account for as much as 70 to 80 per cent of the value of agricultural produce attributable to irrigation.
Since agriculture contributes nearly 29 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) with produce from irrigated areas being the mainstay, the availability of ground water and the health of the GDP are vitally inter-linked, which is all the more reason why the country should pay due attention to its depleting ground water resources, the TERI study states.
However, there remains a contradiction over ground water exploitation in India. While the ground water availability is already a serious problem in a few states, the problem of its over-exploitation doesn’t exist at the national level.
The danger bell is already ringing for Punjab that has reached an exploitation level as high as 98 per cent against the critical level of 80 per cent. Haryana has an exploitation level of 80 per cent, Tamil Nadu over 60 per cent and Rajasthan 53 per cent.
Six of the 12 districts of Punjab and three of Haryana have already crossed the optimum ground water utilisation rate. Mehsana district of Gujarat and Coimbatore of Tamil Nadu are probably beyond redemption with ground water aquifers (layers of rock or soil able to hold or transmit much water) having been rendered permanently depleted due to inadequate recharge.
The full potential of agriculture for growth can be exploited only if the available water resources for crop production and the water from the erratic and evenly distributed rainfall is put to effective and efficient use. The tragedy with our agricultural production had been that we misutilised our ground water potential and ignored rainfed farming.
Rainfed farming has a distinct place in the Indian agriculture, occupying 67 per cent of the cultivated area, contributing 44 per cent of the foodgrains and supporting 40 per cent of population. But still it is not a priority area of our agricultural research. Currently, irrigated areas produce an average of 2 tonnes of foodgrains per hectare. The average productivity in rainfed area is only 0.7 to 0.8 tonne per hectare.
Even after realising the complete irrigation potential of the country, 50 per cent of the cultivated area will continues to depend on the rain god.
Our farmers prefer flood irrigation in agriculture. The excess irrigation water stands on the soil surface keeping the soil saturated for a long time. In this method, more than 50 to 70 per cent of irrigation water is lost due to evaporation, transpiration and by other means. Hardly 30 to 50 per cent of water is consumed by the crop. The water crisis in the country, thus, is inevitable unless micro-irrigation — the most efficient method of water utilisation for crop growth as practised in Israel — is made compulsory.
Post-harvest handling of ber
BER is one of the ancient and common fruits of India. It is a hardy fruit tree and can grow successfully even under unfavourable climatic conditions where most other fruit trees fail to grow. Ber is well known for its ability to thrive under adverse conditions of salinity, drought and waterlogging. However, for good tree growth and yield, deep sandy loam soils with neutral or slightly alkaline reaction and good drainage are more desirable. In Punjab, the districts of Sangrur, Patiala, Mansa and Bathinda are the most famous for ber cultivation.
Ber is one of the most nutritious fruits. It is one of the richest sources of vitamin C, next only to amla and guava. The fruit of different varieties contains 12 to 19 per cent total soluble solids and 0.2 to 0.6 per cent acidity at the fully ripe stage. Ber is also a good source of minerals and protein. A ripe fruit of ber contains amino acids like aspergine, aspartic and arginine, glutamic acid, glycine, serine, theronine, alanine, valine, methionine, leucine and isoleucine.
Harvesting of fruits
The ber tree grows quickly and the first crop can be harvested within two-three years of planting. The peak season for harvesting is mid-March to mid-April. This period being a slack season for other kinds of fruits, ber sells readily at remunerative prices. The fruit should always be picked at the right stage of maturity i.e. when it is neither under-ripe nor over-ripe. It should be picked when it has acquired normal size and characteristic colour of the variety e.g. golden yellow colour in Umran. All the ber fruits on the tree do not ripen at the same time. The fruits are picked in four to five pickings. There is a tendency on the part of fruit contractors to pick the fruits in the unripe stage for marketing. These unripe fruits are not relished by the consumers. It is essential that the fruit must be picked at the right stage of maturity. The fruits should not be allowed to become over-ripe on the tree as they deteriorate in taste and quality and thus fetch a lower price. The leading commercial cultivar of ber i.e. Umran ripens late and requires about 180 days to mature. The optimum harvesting time of Umran is the end of March to mid-April. Ripening time of the ZG-2 variety extends from second fortnight of March to first week of April. Sanaur-2 and Kaithli are mid-season varieties and ripen during the second fortnight of March.Wallaiti is an early variety and its ripens during the first fortnight of March.
Uniform and early ripening
The technique to induce early and uniform ripening permit staggering the harvest which avoids the bothersome operation of picking the fruits in four to five lots. Ethephon 400 ppm at colour break stage (250 ml ethephon in 300 litres of water in first week of March) advances ripening by two weeks in Umran and produces attractive, uniform, better quality and deep golden yellow with chocolate tinge coloured fruits. Ethephon gives more profit per unit area due to advance marketing. Labour cost is saved due to picking and on watch and ward. Harvesting period can be stretched from two weeks to one month and ease the strain of marketing at peak ripening time.
Grading and packing of fruits
The grading should be regularly practised before the fruit is marketed so that they sell at a premium. Sorting should be done to remove culled, undersized, under-riped, over-riped, mis-shaped, cankered and bird-damaged fruits. The fruits should be graded into four grades — A grade (large sized), B grade (medium sized), C grade small sized and D grade (under riped, over-riped, deformed, mis-shaped and cankered). The highest distribution of fruits is found in grade B (33 per cent), which is closely followed by grade A (27 per cent). The fruits belonging to grade C also have higher distribution (22 per cent). Grade D fruits have 18 per cent distribution. The fruits of Umran belonging to A and B grades, which accounted for 60 per cent, have deep golden yellow colour and are more acceptable to the consumers and considered the best from the marketing point of view.
The fruits should be packed properly in corrugated fiber board (CFB) cartons, wooden crates, polynets, wooden baskets and gunny bags of convenient size on the basis of grades. The fruits should be sent immediately to market after proper packing.
Ber fruits are regular and heavy bearer and the mature trees of different grafted varieties can bear up to 2 quintals of fruit per tree. Ber trees are relatively easy and inexpensive to grow in an orchard, yet the returns from it can exceed the profits from several other fruit trees. The growers can net an income of Rs 15000 to Rs 20000 per acre or even more by following recommended management practices and growing selected varieties.
The shelf-life of the ber fruits can be enhanced by storing them in perforated polythene bags of 100 gauge thickness after treating with 6 per cent waxemulsion up to 10 days in ambient conditions and 30 days in the commercial cold storage (temp 0-3.3°C and RH 85-90 per cent).
Utilisation of ber
The ber fruit is eaten mostly fresh but it can be utilised profitably for the preparation of several delicious products. The fruit of the choice grafted varieties is very tasty, the pulp being juicy, sweet and rich in flavour. The fruit is easily digestible and can act as a mild laxative. Drying of ber fruit in the sun is a common practice in the dry region of northern India where it is often the only fruit locally available. The dried fruit is kept for use during off season. The Umran variety is suitable for sundrying and dehydration. Ber candy is an excellent product which found favour with the consumer. The Umran variety is best suitable for the preparation of candy. Fully mature unripe fruits of ber can be used for murabba, pickle and chutney. A nice jelly can be prepared from the ripe fruit and that can retain a good amount of vitamin C.
Farm operations for MAY
— This is the right time for sowing paddy nursery of the PR-116, PR-114, PR-113, PR-111, PR-106, PR-108 and PR-115 varieties and sowing must be completed by 20th of this month. Apply 12 to 15 cartloads of well-rotten farm-yard manure per acre. Flood the field and puddle it well. Apply 26 kg of urea and 60 kg of superphosphate per acre at puddling. Prepare plots of convenient size.
— Treat seed before sowing to prevent primary seed-borne infection. Dip 8 kg of seed in 10 litres of water containing 10 g of Ceresan wet or10 g of Agallot or 5 g Tafasan or 5g of Areton and 1 g of Streptocycline for 8 to 10 hours before sowing.
— Sow the treated and pre-germinated seed @ 1 kg/20 sq.m. Keep the soil moist by irrigating the plot frequently. Apply another dose of 26 kg of urea per acre about a fortnight after sowing .
— Weeds in paddy nursery can effectively be controlled by applying 1200 ml per acre of any recommended brand formulations of Butachlor 50 EC or Thiobencarb 50 EC. The herbicide should be applied in the standing water 7 days after sowing of the pre-germinated seed or alternatively apply Sofit 37.5 EC (Pretilachlor plus Safner (Readymix) @ 500 ml/acre 3 days after sowing of pre-germinated seed.
— During the initial stages of growth, light irrigation should be given but after about 10 days, sufficient water should be kept standing to avoid iron deficiency, particularly in the case of light textured soil. However, if the seedlings in the nursery show yellowing of leaf tips, spray thrice with 1 per cent ferrous sulphate solution at weekly intervals. If leaf turns rusty brown after becoming yellow, give a spray of 0.5 neutralised zinc sulphate solution.
— In case an attack of plant hopper, hispa and stem borer in rice nursery is noticed, then spray 560 ml of Nuvacron 36 SL against plant hoppers and rice stem borer may be carried out immediately.
— If the attack of Hispa is noticed in the nursery, clip off and destroy the leaf tips of the affected seedlings before transplanting. If a severe attack is noticed, then spray 120 ml methyl parathion 50 EC in 100 litres of water per acre should be done .
— Start sowing maize during the last week of this month.
— Sow only the PAU recommended hybrids/varieties.
— Sowing can be done in trenches only up to mid-June. Trench-planted Maize resist lodging and gives more yield.
— Apply fertilisers on the basis of soil test report.
— Drill 35 kg of urea, 150 kg of superphosphate and 20 kg of MOP/acre at sowing to Paras, Parbhat, Sartaj and Bios-9637 hybrids of maize but Parkash, Kesri, Pearl Pop Corn and JH 3459 required 25 kg of (urea, 75 kg of superphosphate and 15 kg of MOP/acre at sowing.
— Application of good quality FYM @ 6 t/acre is very beneficial and additional application of nitrogen is not substituted for this.
— If maize follows wheat which had received the recommended amount of phosphorous and potash, then omit the application of these nutrients.
— For the control of weeds depending upon the soil type. Atrataf 50 WP @ 500-800 g/acre can be sprayed up to 10 days of sowing.