August 11, 2003, Chandigarh, India
fights a losing battle on Johl plan
need not be a water-guzzler
hills, make the most of rain
fights a losing battle on Johl plan
The Punjab Government's ambition of diversifying by giving subsidy to farmers for not growing rice and wheat stands frustrated. Criticism from sceptics apart, even the Centre does not seem appreciative of the plan based on a report prepared by Dr S.S. Johl, Vice-Chairman of the Punjab Planning Board and head of the Chief Minister's Advisory Committee on Agriculture Policy.
Dr Johl today seems to be fighting a lonely and losing battle, and would like to be heard.
The Union Government is not extending a helping hand. Babus in Delhi have started finding faults with the state's diversification programme. Instead of saying a plain "no" to funding the diversification, the Centre is beating about the bush by raising new questions. Under the circumstances, contract farming may be the only hope left for diversification.
Dr Johl has sent a hard-hitting note to the Union Ministry of Agriculture. He has dwelt in detail on the proceedings of a meeting on diversification that he held with the ministry a few months ago. Of course, the comments have been sent through the state government.
While presenting his diversification plan to the Union Government, Dr Johl had proposed to shift one million hectares of land from under the rice-wheat rotation to other crops. He had sought Rs 1280 crore from the Centre to provide compensation to farmers for not growing rice and wheat and shifting to other crops under a "crop adjustment programme". This would save at least Rs 3720 crore per annum—about Rs 9000 crore is spent to procure and hold 8.04 million tonnes of foodgrains produced on one million hectares in Punjab. Even if these foodgrains are disposed of at the below-poverty-line price, the Centre loses about Rs 5000 crore in one year.
Dr Johl had proposed that the farmers participating in the diversification programme be given Rs 12,500 per hectare. Stocking surplus wheat for two years costs more than what it costs to distribute it free to the poor on the spot immediately after production. There is a loss of Rs 5,000 per tonne of grains stocked in the buffer.
The idea is to reduce the production of foodgrains to food-security level. Diversification would not only save on the cost of procurement, storage, and transportation, but would also save the fast-degrading soil and the depleting water resources.
The one million hectare proposed is not a "magic figure;" it could be less or more. However, this target, according to Dr Johl, was fixed keeping in view the fact that Punjab does not have the capacity to irrigate more than 1.5 million hectares of paddy. Though the productivity of wheat and rice is high, yet the most scarce resource, water, suffers.
Economic principles dictate that returns should be worked in direct proportion to the most-scarce resource. Last year, Punjab diverted electricity worth Rs 1200 crore from the paying sector to the non-paying agriculture sector. The cost of growing paddy was over Rs 6000 crore. Thus, the social cost and the shadow price of paddy is much higher than what is paid to the farmers. The state as a whole is in no way compensated for the cost incurred on producing foodgrains, especially paddy. The Centre needs to realise the plight of Punjab and its people, says Dr Johl.
He is upset over the fact that the Centre has "derived a wrong meaning of funding the diversification programme." It has labelled it as a "subsidy based" programme. It is being interpreted that the Rs 1280 crore sought by Punjab would amount to giving subsidy to the agriculture sector in the state.
Countering this perception, Dr Johl says that it is surprising that the Centre is prepared to keep losing Rs 5000 per tonne by maintaining excess stocks of 8 million tonne, when it can save Rs 3,800 per tonne and avoid the hassles of procurement by giving farmers just Rs 1,250 per tonne. "Rather than being a subsidy for farmers, it would be a subsidy for the government," he asserts.
India imports huge quantities of oilseeds and pulses. Why not produce these on the one million hectares proposed to be taken away from wheat-paddy? Why not produce what we need rather than keep producing what is already in surplus? These are the questions Dr Johl would want the Centre to ponder over.
Among the questions posed by the Union Government is why should not other states be included in the programme? To that, Dr Johl says there is no point in deficit states reducing their production and importing grains from other states. The deficit states should rather increase their production. Moreover, the efficiency of money spent to replace wheat and rice with oilseeds and pulses in Punjab would be higher—with the same amount of compensation there will be greater reduction of foodgrain production as compared to any other state as each hectare produces much more in Punjab than elsewhere.
THE Centre is not the only entity that needs convincing, Dr Johl has other detractors, too, who challenge his case on the basis of workability and ground realities like corruption and administrative challenges.
Recently, Prof H.S. Shergill, an eminent economist who prepared a report on the debt burden of Punjab farmers, had found faults in the crop diversification programme prepared by the Johl committee. He had also sent a copy of his paper criticising the programme to the state government, which was referred to Dr Johl for comments.
Responding to the concerns raised by Mr Shergill, Dr Johl says: "Mr Shergill does not understand the problems of agriculture in Punjab. He does not feel the necessity for diversification, whereas the committee (headed by Mr Johl) set up on diversification by the state government has fully justified the need for diversification."
Dr Johl says that his earlier report on diversification that was submitted in 1986 was not implemented because drought conditions continued for about six years, starting in 1987. The government continued to increase the support price. Under the circumstances, farmers expanded the area under wheat and rice. "That does not mean that farmers acted against the advice regarding diversification. Rather, they responded to the policy of the government."
Mr Shergill had commented that since 1986, when Dr Johl came out with his plan first, the area under wheat and rice has continued to increase. Dr Johl says that Mr Shergill is trying to create confusion about the diversification programme without any arguments. "He is more concerned about migratory labour and does not consider the social cost and shadow price of wheat and paddy," he declares.
The embittered Dr Johl
goes on: "Mr Shergill does not realise that MSP is already being
announced by the government for 22 commodities and it is always
accompanied by procurement obligations. On the other hand, there will
be no need for procurement of oilseeds and pulses, as these would find
takers automatically because of being in short supply." The
problem of plenty on the foodgrains front is quite substantive. The
solution has to be immediate and comprehensive. The committee report
is based on logic, facts and workability, asserts Dr Johl. — SD
not be a water-guzzler
Rice originated in the hot and humid tropics where heavy rains and floodwater create an aquatic environment for at least part of the year. This has lead to the general perception that rice can be grown only in flooded fields.
That is not true. Not all the rice in the world is grown under such conditions. The fact is that while rice can tolerate puddled water, it is not a need.
Rice is grown from the sea level up to 10,000 feet, along appropriate latitudes under extreme moisture regimes, ranging from low-rainfall (less than 400 mm), drought-prone upland to high-rainfall (more than 3000 mm), deep-water areas of the East. In the Far North, it is grown in the Slovak region and Hokkaido in Japan, and in the Far South, in Australia. In Nepal and Bhutan, rice is grown at a height of 3000 m above the sea level.
Nearly a sixth of the world's rice is grown as upland rice. The largest areas of upland rice are found in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, China and the Philippines. Direct seeding of rice is practised in parts of Assam, West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat during the pre-monsoon rains, though the yield is low.
From this pattern it is apparent that rice is not always produced under flooded conditions. Thus, the image of rice as a water guzzler is not entirely correct. Instead of puddling, irrigating the field one or two days after the disappearance of water from the surface can lead to water savings of up to 30 per cent without any significant loss in yield.
In view of this, agricultural scientists at the JDM Agricultural Research and Development Foundation, Ladhowal, in Ludhiana district, conducted trials of growing paddy without puddling, which were successful.
While the nursery was raised in the traditional way, the seedlings were transplanted without puddling the field. This was made possible by making 24-inch-wide ridges with a tractor-drawn "ridger" after preparing the field. The channels between the ridges were filled with water and the seedlings were planted at the bottom of the ridges on both sides. The water was up to the root level. During the first week, the crop was irrigated daily, but after that it was done only after a week or more, depending upon the weather. Particular attention was paid to irrigation at the "tillering" and grain-filling stages.
According to Dr Daler Singh, an agriculture scientist of the State Department of Agriculture and principal investigator of the team conducting research at JDM farms, by this method up to 70 per cent saving in water could be made. The technique also saves soil fauna from drowning.
Mechanical weeding is easier in this method than in the conventional. Also achieved was early maturity and better yield, in addition to water saving.
In the case of puddling,
a six-inch-deep hard layer is created in the surface soil, which does
not let water percolate down and recharge the water table. This causes
rainwater to run off. But when paddy is grown without puddling, the
soil remains porous, roots are well aerated and the earthworms thrive,
helping in improving soil health and the microbial activity in it.
hills, make the most of rain
In spite of high precipitation, crops in the hills suffer for want of optimum moisture in the seed zone at sowing time due to erratic rainfall.
Maize-wheat is the important cropping sequence in hill areas. Crop failures are common if there is no timely rain at the post-sowing stage.
Proper management of rainwater and soil conservation are the basis of the technology package for hill agriculture. Two approaches are adopted in this: (a) on-farm rainwater management and (b) collecting rainwater in farm ponds and recycling in the donor area.
In high-rainfall areas, it is the management of excess water that is critical, whereas in semi-arid and arid areas better soil-erosion control, along with rainwater conservation, secures the basic resources.
In the selection of soil and water-conservation practices, the emphasis should be on on-farm rainwater management in the low-rainfall hill areas. The important approaches are contour farming, deep tillage, mechanical measures, different land configurations for in situ rainwater conservation, and growing legumes and grasses (vegetative barriers).
In high-rainfall areas, efforts have to be made to drain out the excess water from fields and store it for later use for protecting crops in case of long dry spells.
Farmers should plough and plank their fields immediately after harvesting maize to conserve the residual moisture for sowing wheat. If the monsoon recedes early and post-sowing winter rain is delayed then the wheat crop fails. In the foothills, farmers plough up their fields in the evening and do planking early next morning for dew harvesting. This exercise in repeated to enhance the seed-zone moisture.
Maize stalks can also be spread over the soil surface after harvest with the dual objective of drying the stalks and conserving moisture.
Another practice followed is the application of cattle shed litter to the standing maize. This includes leafy material from locally available wild shrubs. The material is then ploughed into the field before sowing wheat. If the surface cover is thick enough, then this practice helps in moisture conservation in addition to soil enrichment.
Mulching in standing maize with locally available material like Lantana camera, eupatorium @ 10 tonnes per hectare on air-dry-weight basis is a healthy practice. At the time of sowing wheat, moisture content in the seed zone following this practice will be higher than without mulching.
Soil structure under mulch remains such that wheat can be sown without much tillage. Owing to mulch, minimal tillage opens up small furrows to put seed and fertiliser. This practice helps in moisture conservation and elevation of the minimum soil temperature during the early stage of wheat and thereby gives higher yield.
Application of a mulch of lantana and eupatorium weeds to the standing maize not only conserves moisture for the wheat crop but also effects conservation in tillage and fertiliser nitrogen. The increase in the straw yield by this practice compensates for the labour cost of mulch collection in standing maize.
Mulch can be generated in situ by maintaining bushes of fast-growing leguminous trees like robinia (Robinia psendoacacia) on bunds and growing rainfed maize and wheat crops in between the rows of trees. This results in run-off reduction, prevents nitrogen losses and conserves soil.
tillage effects economy in NPK inputs as the grain yield in wheat at
50 per cent of the recommended dose is higher even when compared with
conventional tillage with 100 per cent of the dose.