|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, October 20, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
killing Haryana lands
should go for
just drop grains
In the mid-sixties, introduction of new technology, willingness of the Punjab farmer to take risks, and the development of extensive agriculture marketing infrastructure initiated a change in the rural scene and ultimately revolutionised Punjab’s agriculture. The rail network, roads, assured marketing, and remunerative prices for food grains—guaranteed by minimum support prices (MSP)—played major role in this development.
The Green Revolution, which transformed sustenance agriculture into a commercial enterprise, also had its social impact. It saw the emergence of a middle-class landed gentry. As a logical corollary, the process of redefining and reorientation of inter-societal relations initiated a churning within. Political and social equations began to be recast. These developments also involved the hitherto economically and socially depressed Dalits. Equality of opportunity and status began to motivate their thought and action.
Punjab is still predominately an agricultural economy. Agriculture contributes 45 per cent to the state’s GSDP. Wheat and rice, two main crops responsible for the Green Revolution, have reached the highest production levels possible under the available technology, leading to stagnation in growth, if not decline.
Lack of appropriate strategies applied in time to sustain the initial momentum is primarily responsible for this pass. Consequent drying up of fresh investment into this sector created further complications.
The following are the major factors responsible for this decline:
—The carry-home incomes of farmers have declined to a very low level. The MSP has not kept pace with the corresponding increase in the cost of production and the living index. One personal example would explain this well. I took up farming after resigning from the Army in 1971. The 35 HP tractor I bought then cost Rs 20,250 and the wheat I produced was sold at Rs 80 per quintal. Currently, the same tractor costs Rs 3 lakh, an increase of 14.5 times. The MSP for one quintal of wheat in the current year is Rs 620, an increase of only 7.5 times.
No wonder, Punjab’s agriculture reflects a negative trade balance with other states, amounting to Rs 1500 crore annually, causing a serious debt problem among the farmers, which, according to estimates, stands at Rs 10,000 crore.
—Negative manifestations like emergence of soil and seed-borne disease, pests and depletion of soil productivity due to heavy cropping patterns is a cause of serious concern.
—The demand for wheat and rice from deficit states has declined as a consequence of their own agriculture development programmes.
—The land holdings have been fragmented. Roughly, 75 per cent of all holdings fall in the category of marginal or uneconomic.
—There is no national agriculture policy.
—Low priority is accorded to agriculture and the allocation of resources to agriculture in the Central Plans is meagre.
—The import of agriculture commodities and dairy products in the recent years under the WTO has had its own fallout.
The economic recession and its attending complications threaten the very way of life that Punjab’s farmers have got accustomed to. Perceptible undercurrents of restiveness and turmoil have begun to flow through the community. In the absence of immediate remedial measures, the impact this situation would have on the political and social scene of the state is obvious.
The implications of integrating into the global economy and joining the WTO were never seriously studied, both at the national as well as state levels. Obviously, adequate responses were never developed. Punjab’s agriculture will face new and serious challenges from the WTO.
The Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) under the WTO envisages free global trade of agriculture commodities with certain stipulations. It imposes a strict regime of permissible and non-permissible subsidies by governments to support their agriculture and provide for a strict regulatory system. But before the agreement could come into effect developed countries, in order to circumvent these subsidy-related provisions, transferred non-permissible subsidies to permissible categories.
Consequently, European and US farmers continue to receive the same aggregate level of production and export subsidies as they did prior to the AoA. The annual subsidy to farmers in the USA, who are only 2 per cent of the population, is $74 billion. The situation is similar in the EU.
India does not provide for any direct subsidy to its farmers. Surplus states like Punjab are being asked to compete in a global market, which has already been fixed. The WTO-generated environment would also inevitably give rise to a fresh national debate as to why the deficit states should buy Punjab’s wheat and rice against the cheaper subsidised foreign food freely available under the WTO. Rail freight of 1 tonne of wheat from Punjab to Andhra Pradesh is Rs1260 as against the sea freight of Rs 1000 from the faraway Australia.
It is not a contention that India should opt out of the WTO. In the shrinking modern world, it is neither possible nor desirable for a nation to exist in isolation. However, at present the agreement favours overwhelmingly the developed world, therefore it requires to be balanced.
It is often advocated that diversifying into crops other than wheat and rice is the answer to the problems of Punjab. But apparently those who propound this theory ignore the fact that India’s populace faces widespread malnutrition and hunger even after 50 years of Independence. UNO studies reveal that 5000 children die every day in India because of malnutrition. The Annual per-head availability of food grains in India is only 174 kg as against 304 kg in China. Statistics also indicate that India would be a net importer of rice by 2005.
Thus, contrary to curtailing food production, the requirement is to double the production in the next 10 years in order to keep pace with the demand created by the burgeoning population.
An illusion of food surplus has been created by the stockpiles in Punjab. This is because the indigenous demand is low. Approximately 40 per cent of our people do not posses the purchasing power to buy food to meet their minimum nutritional requirement. There is need for a policy based on a dual-pricing formula. To protect the poor, stimulate demand and to ensure food for all, the MSP for food grains should be fixed at correspondingly lower levels; outside the MSP, there should be a provision of bonus for farmers to cover fully the cost of production and reasonable profit margin. To keep inflation in check, the MSP should he fairly constant. The bonus should be clubbed with the price index.
Agriculture in Punjab requires a second push to ensure 1) stabilisation of farm incomes, 2) introduction of new technology for the uneconomic holdings to make them viable, and 3) a system of direct agriculture to make Punjab’s produce competitive in the global market.
killing Haryana lands
Over exploitation of both brackish and good-quality ground water and poor canal water management in Haryana has accentuated the twin problems of soil salinity and water logging to such an extent that agriculture may soon become unsustainable in the state.
Kurukshetra, Karnal, Yamunanagar and parts of Kaithal districts, which have good -quality ground water, are witnessing sharp fall in the water table due to excessive use. Strangely, a similar situation has arisen in south-western Haryana as well, where the brackish ground water level, too, is falling sharply due to over exploitation.
On the other hand, canal irrigated districts such as Rohtak, Hisar, Jind and parts of Bhiwani, which too have brackish ground water, are facing water logging due to rise in the level of underground brackish water as a result of excessive use of canal water. In both cases, the result is soil salinisation, which is rendering large chunks of agricultural land useless.
Water logging and salinisation owe their origin to the introduction of canal irrigation in arid and semi-arid irrigated areas. Till the intra-basin transfer of Sutlej water to Haryana the water table was in equilibrium as the requirement was met by rainwater, even though partially. The Green Revolution made both farmers and the government complacent and the dangers of water logging and soil salinisation were overlooked for years together.
These problems, which were grave enough by themselves, were further compounded by natural factors such as the existence of a topographic depression in the centre of Haryana, a natural ground water flow towards this depression and a lack of natural outlets for drainage.
The magnitude of the problem can be gauged from the fact that in 1995, 1996 and 1997, as much as 9.4, 8.7 and 6 per cent, respectively, of the total area in Haryana was critically waterlogged (water level at 0-1.5 m). However, in 2000 the area declined considerably due to below-normal rainfall. The waterlogged area in different years fluctuates by about 8 per cent. However, the potentially waterlogged area between 1.5m and 3m depth from October 1995 to 1997 was around 15 per cent. Thus, a considerable area in the state is facing severe problems of soil degradation due to water logging, and the resultant soil salinity.
In terms of agricultural production, this means that in the initial years, the crop yield in such areas is marginally reduced but it has a serious effect in the subsequent years, rendering the area completely unproductive. The salinity-affected areas are Rohtak, Hisar, Sirsa, Gurgaon and also parts of Jind, Bhiwani, Sonepat and Gurgaon districts.
Dr Ranvir Kumar, Dr A. S. Dhindwal and Dr R. S. Malik of the Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar, who have done pioneering work on this problem, say that when ground water rises, dissolved salts rise with it. If the upward movement is not checked by a downward movement of percolating irrigation water, salinisation would eventually occur.
If the water table rises to less than 1.5 m below the surface, the soil becomes waterlogged, i.e., the water storage capacity is so low that it can not absorb the monsoon rains. Accordingly, a damaging cycle of flooding in the wet season and rapid salinisation in the dry season is set in motion.
The experts maintain that its effect on agriculture production is very serious. If the water table is too high, the land floods during the monsoon and the farmer cannot grow the Kharif crop. In case the upper layer of water is fresh or brackish, the subsequent Rabi crops, may be benefited. However, the benefit will not compensate for the loss to the Kharif crop, and with salinity build-up both the crops are lost.
Both short and long-term measures are needed to reclaim the affected areas and prevent further damage. The preventive measures include 1) propagation of good water management technology and training farmers for the purpose, 2) reduction in canal water supply by 25 per cent from mid-July to mid-September and again from December to February in Hisar, Rohtak and Jind to encourage farmers to use a mixture of canal and underground saline water, and 3) checking seepage losses by keeping watercourses in fit condition and construction of storage reservoirs in canal command areas for subsequent use.
In addition, as curative steps, the
experts suggest construction of adequate drainage systems in
critically affected areas and maximising the use of canal and saline
water mix. A shift from "warabandi" to
"warametric" system will be of great help. However, a
permanent solution to the problem lies in the construction of an
artificial drainage channel to the Rann of Kutch with a lift of 100
metres passing through several other states. The massive project needs
to be implemented on a regional basis involving other north-western
states facing similar problems.
should go for exportable varieties
Utilisation of local genetic resources is a prerequisite for identification of temperate fruit for sustainable production in the tropical countries, says the chairperson of the International Society for Horticulture Science, Ms Ayzin B. Kudin. And Asia is an apt place for the selection of genetic material for research, she adds.
Ms Kudin, who is attending an international conference on temperate fruits in the tropics and subtropics at Barog, Himachal, says that this global horticulture society, which endeavours to form an effective network for collaboration, seeks to benefit the members by sharing information.
The biggest challenge in growing temperate fruits in the tropics and sub-tropics is that the requirement of proper chilling hours has to be met by application of chemicals. It is, therefore, mandatory to choose the appropriate variety that can sustain itself in the changed climatic conditions, she stresses.
On the Indian scenario, she says the fact that a large chunk of fruit growers still grow traditional varieties of plum, peach and other tropical fruits, reduces their chances of export. Short shelf life is a major reason for the lack of market value for this fruit. Given the great scope for export of these fruits in the neighbouring Asian countries, the growers here should opt for cultivation of varieties from the USA, Italy, etc.
Emphasising the need for diversification, she says cultivation of fruits like Kiwi, which being rich in vitamin C have great demand abroad, should be encouraged.
Ms Kudin has been receiving a number of queries on peach storage technique, cherry rootstock, and pruning and propagation of various fruits. She feels that while scientists are very keen on gaining technical know-how in India, most growers lag in this aspect and continue to dwell upon their traditional knowledge. Therefore, despite research work, not much information has percolated to the grassroots level.