|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, October 28, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Circle of contention
Brewing sweet nothings
Farming in November
Let’s overhaul, and not patch up
IN Punjab, problems and challenges besetting agriculture are growing serious and going beyond Band-Aid solution. If allowed to continue, these can foster outrage, social tension and political instability.
Today, 70 per cent small, marginal and medium farmers, who own and operate on less than four hectares face an uncertain future in the new world order under the WTO—World Trade Organisation—that has created a global free trade club. Because of unsure incomes these peasants are loosing confidence in themselves, as also their dignity and self-respect. This is forcing them out of the land in search of work in cities. This trend has started and will spring new problems.
As the cleavage between haves and have-nots widens, it might lead to social tensions, precipitate existing urban chaos, infringe on the already inadequate socio-economic services and disturb law and order.
The first SOS message is from Harkrishanpura (Bathinda). It is loud and clear. Desperation has forced these people to put up a signboard saying "Village on sale," a telling comment on their socio-economic conditions, as also failures of the politico-administrative system. Har-krishanpura desires ‘’freedom from land, alternative livelihood and freedom from the shackles of debt." This is a wake-up call.
Is the government incapable of implementing its policies and reforms and enforcing its rules meant for the welfare of the people? Is scientists’, economists’ and bureaucrats’ ineptitude deliberate? It is time to help agriculture emerge form the lurch, as idle farms are a potential source of unrest.
Today, the kisan is struggling to survive. He is an abandoned child of a failed marriage between farm research and farming practices, a victim of exploitative agriculture. The wheat and rice grains that Punjab produced and once brought a smile on the face of the hungry have now become a bane for the kisan.
Agriculture cannot afford to maintain status quo. There is a need for a paradigm shift from old production-centric policies to suit the new world economic order, where quality determines market access, where value-added produce is consumer-oriented with multi-choice benefits and where produce is grown by adopting eco-friendly farm practices sans agro-chemicals. Organic farming has to make its way.
The WTO regime has introduced new hazards, uncertainties, opportunities and challenges, requiring scientists to re-orient and re-prioritise research and applied technology and clever bureaucrats to find ways to put agriculture and economy on a new global trajectory.
Agriculture in Punjab is mechanised; though, this came alongside farm-engineering technologies and high-yielding varieties that changed the landscape of Punjab in the mid-60s. The over mechanisation, however, is also a cause of debt burden on the kisan, who has acquired tractors, its accessories and other machinery more out of social prestige and ego than need. He has also opted for indiscriminate loans/borrowings that are diverted to either meet the family’s committed expenditure, on social functions or to repay old loans. He is in a debt trap and several of the ilk have paid a heavy price: unable to repay their debt, they have committed suicide.
While Punjab has been used as a "grain factory" all these 40 years, no one visualised that one day, when other states, solely dependent upon Punjab wheat and rice, would also became self-sufficient, and then what will happen to the grains from Punjab and the state’s economy. The seeds of the multiple problems that beset agriculture today were, ironically, sown in the Green Revolution itself.
Thus, Punjab has paid a heavy price for grain production. Today, its agriculture and the kisan are at a crossroads. Its grains are unwelcome anywhere. Its worries have been accentuated by the Centre’s unfriendly pricing, procurement, marketing and public distribution policies. Agriculture has become prickly and in the absence of new direction many a hope and hearth is dying.
Taking advantage of the plight of the small, marginal and medium farmer, the big farmer is exploiting them by grabbing their land. Multinational companies are doing the same. The only way for tiny farmers to resist this onslaught and survive on their owned land is to organise themselves into "cooperatives" or accept "corporative" farming. In the world market, it is quality and consumer’s choice that matters. MNCs offer both: first through better quality seeds to farmers and later by better-processed food. Punjab is yet to provide either.
Punjab agriculture cannot survive for long in a global competitive environment on the past achievements or laurels alone. The aging Green Revolution can no longer sustain agriculture or maintain the region’s superiority over other states. Patent laws are further changing the scene. Since old technologies have become obsolete and cannot stand the test of time, today new technologies have to be evolved. It is time to shift from simple agronomic practices to, say, biotechnology, agro-meteorology, information technology, microelectronics, market intelligence, econometrics, genetic engineering, agro-processing, etc.
IT has to be granted that certain problems are peculiar to Punjab. For instance, there is no seaport. The only one being used is Kandla. Thus, transportation of grains means a heavy financial burden. For example, to transport 1 quintal of grain to Mumbai, Punjab spends Rs 250, while the same quantity reaches Mumbai from Australia for Rs 100, and there are no buyers.
An equally serious situation in Punjab is the "sweet water" getting depleted at 23 cm per annum on an average; this year, following drought, it has even gone down by 4 to 5 meters in certain areas in the central zone (31.6 lakh hectares). Care has to be taken of crops sown in brackish water in the south-western zone (14.1 lakh hectares) and under scarcity conditions in the sub-mountainous zone (4.6 lakh hectares). For new tubewells in the central zone, legislation is must to protect further depletion of aquifers. Sweet water is not for irrigation, but drinking. In fact, legislation is needed on water management itself. The depleting sub-soil water table is forcing installation of submersible pumps to mine deeper. That will be disastrous in the long run.
If such neglect of agriculture persists any longer, it would be difficult to contain either social unrest or migration of the rural population to cities. Agriculture cannot progress in isolation; it has to be integrated with rural development. Future lies in "back to the villages" by providing equal, if not more, facilities (education and health) and civic amenities, infrastructure, communication, employment, etc, as are available in cities.
Profitable prices for produce with assured market and processing are imperative to pull agriculture back from the brink of economic breakdown and the kisan from suicide.
Circle of contention
IT is no time to either rake up vacuous controversies or settle political scores over the WTO. It is also no time to find fault with either the Union Ministry of Commerce or Agriculture, as to who failed India, where and when over the determination of subsidies. Now the WTO is a reality, an undeniable fact. It is, therefore, time to act and catch up with the world.
Today, 143 countries are members of the body. All WTO regulations are to be implemented by December 2004. The developing countries, including India, have 10 years to reduce their subsidies to agriculture to 24 per cent, as against the 36 per cent level to be achieved in six years by the developed countries. The subsidies are already much low in the developing countries compared to developed countries. India is to have 100 per cent tariff on primary agricultural produce (raw material), 150 per cent on processed food and 300 per cent on oil seeds in the next 10 years.
So wide is the gap between agriculture in the developing and developed countries that adverse fallout will be felt here sooner than later.
Japan has imposed a 700 per cent tariff on rice and 557 per cent on milk. It is 212-313 per cent in Canada. The quantum of subsides to agriculture in developed countries is huge. These give up to 95 per cent subsidy on agricultural exports. In the absence of technology, India is unable to quickly assess the changing economic world order and adjust the tariff on imports and exports accordingly.
For giving subsidies to agriculture, the WTO has identified a "Green box" and a "Blue box." Under the former, countries are free to give subsidies for research, extension, training, marketing, insect/pest control, etc. Under the Blue box, subsidies are admissible to poor, small, marginal and medium farmers. The definition that fits developing countries’ poor, small, marginal and medium farmers is different from that of the developed countries. The percentage of people dependent upon agriculture in the developed countries is 4 to 5 per cent, while it is 75 per cent in developing countries.
Therefore, the WTO regime has to be
adapted to the advantage of Punjab agriculture, where small, marginal
and medium farmers own less than 4 hectares. Here, agriculture is
production (quantity) oriented, not quality centric. Even the cost of
production is higher in developing countries as against the developed
Brewing sweet nothings
FOR what Punjab "kheti" and "kisan" have gained in the past 40 years, due must be given to the Punjab Agricultural University.
PAU, harbinger of the Green (grain) Revolution, is, however, now fatigued and at 40 is showing signs of aging and inertia. Out of every Rs 100 the university receives, salaries consume Rs 93. Besides an acute resource crunch, the other cause of its "sickness" is staff inbreeding. Also, a major percentage of PAU employees, say insides, are into side business. The old-timers say the university can do much better with lesser staff, of which today there is neither accountability nor credibility.
The application of PAU’s own research, repetitive or routine, is far less on its own farms and Krishi Vigyan Kendras than on farmers’ fields. Even its low-cost production technologies, like minimum tillage (zero), bi-directional sowing that gives an additional 52 kg per hectare yield or irrigation to paddy, are seldom applied and adopted at its seed farms.
Agriculture is rooted in water—the most crucial issue today, more than even diversification. Yet, PAU has no recommendation on optimum irrigation schedules and nor has it evolved a methodology for application of water. Irrigation geometry is missing. Instead of drip, furrow or sprinkler irrigation techniques, PAU itself still uses the flooding method.
A crude modelling system is in use in the absence of a reliable data-generation system. It is shocking that more than 50 per cent of the university staff is not computer friendly and have no Internet access. There is over staffing but research equipment is inadequate.
Farm graduates’ orientation is
skewed. They do not understand the idiom of kisan because the
university no longer gets undergraduate students from rural areas. The
orientation of urban students is more theoretical research than
applied science. PAU has to examine whether it has outlived its
utility. What is true of PAU is even more so for the Department of
Agriculture, another lethargic and inefficient monolith that has lost
its moorings and direction. Its overhaul is long due. PPS
Farming in November
— Sowing of long-duration varieties of wheat like PBW-343, WH-542, PDW-274, PDW-233, PBW-34 and PBW-154 should be completed by the second and third week of November, respectively. After this period, prefer to sow PBW-373 and PBW-138. Under rain-fed conditions grow PBW-396, PBW-299 and PBW-175. Do not grow durum wheat in light soils as well as in soil deficit in manganese. Use of zero-till drill/strip till drill can be made for sowing wheat. On medium to heavy textured soils sowing of wheat can be done with bed planter.
— Drill 55 kg DAP and 35 kg urea or 55 kg urea and 155 kg superphosphate per acre at the time of sowing. Urea can also be applied before "rauni" irrigation. Muriate of potash @ 20 kg per acre may be applied in soils testing low in available potash. But in districts of Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur and Ropar 40 kg muriate of potash needs to be applied. Urea dose may be reduced by 1/4 if legume fodder was preceding crop.
— For rainfed wheat 70 kg urea, 100 kg single superphosphate and 16 kg muriate of potash per acre may be drilled at the time of sowing in medium to high moisture-storage capacity soil (sandy loam and finer soils). In loamy sand soil the fertiliser dose may be reduced to half.
— In recently reclaimed salt-affected soils, the urea dose may be increased by 25 percent.
— In case zinc sulphate has not been applied to the previous crop of rice or maize, a dose of 25 kg zinc sulphate per acre may be applied at the time of sowing.
— For the control of loose smut of wheat, treat the seed of all wheat varieties except that of PDW-274, PDW- 233, PBW-34 and TL-1210 with Vitavax @ 2g/kg of seed or Bavistin/ Agrozim/ Derosal/ JK Stein/ Sten 50 @ 2.5 g/ kg seed and for the control of root rot, foot rot, seedling blight, black tip and black spot of glumes, treat the seed with Captan/ Thiram @3 g/ kg seed. Captan and Thiram treatment should not be done earlier than one month of sowing as it affects seed germination. These fungicides can be used to control leaf/ flag smut.
— Yellow and brown rust: Grow rust resistant varieties like PBW-343, MM-542, PBW-34 under normal sown conditions and PBW-373 under late sown conditions.
— Termite is a serious pest of wheat, particularly in rainfed area. Before sowing, seed must be treated with 160 ml chlorpyriphos (Dursban/ Ruban/ Durmet 20 EC) or 280 ml Endosulfan (Thiodan 35 EC). Dilute any one of the above mentioned insecticides in one litre of water and spray on one acre seed (40 kg) spread on pucca ground.
— In lentil use varities like LL-699, LL-56 or LL-147 and complete sowing by mid-November. For higher yields, inoculate the seed with Rhizobium culture. Apply 10 kg urea and 50 kg superphosphate per acre at the time of sowing. If the Rhizobium culture has not been used, then apply 100 kg superphosphate per acre at sowing.
— In gram, use varieties GL-88341, PBG-1 or C-235 in the submontane districts whereas GL-769 or GPF-2 varieties may be used in other districts. The sowing must be completed by the first week of November as further delay in sowing results in reduction in yield. Prefer PDG-3 and PDG-4 variety under rainfed conditions.
— Treat the seed with Bavistin and Thiram (1:1) or Hexacap/ Captain/ Captaf @ 3 g/ kg seed for the control of blight. Grow resistant varieties C-235 and PBG- 1.
— Treat pea seed with Bavistin @ 1 g/ kg seed for control of wilt.