Farmers won’t give up paddy, govt mulling way out

CHANDIGARH: As water crisis in Punjab looms large and farmers show reluctance to shift to other crops to break away from paddy-wheat cycle, the state government is mulling the use of technology as well as radically changing the practice of cultivation to make paddy an environmentally friendly crop.

Ruchika M Khanna

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 30

As water crisis in Punjab looms large and farmers show reluctance to shift to other crops to break away from paddy-wheat cycle, the state government is mulling the use of technology as well as radically changing the practice of cultivation to make paddy an environmentally friendly crop.

While on one hand, the government will be advancing the sowing of paddy from next year, a radically different cultivation practice, the use of new machine like Lucky seeder or Lucky seed drill will be used for direct sowing of paddy. The machine, developed by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), not just sows paddy directly, but also simultaneously sprays weedicides to prevent any weed growth that could harm the crop.

Kahan Singh Pannu, Agriculture Secretary, told The Tribune that research had now shown that if paddy was sown in the first week of June, there was no need to irrigate the fields immediately. “So far, farmers are advised to sow paddy in the third week of June, so that less water is used for its cultivation. The PAU will be recommending early sowing from next year,” said Pannu.

For past couple of years, the direct sowing of paddy too was being recommended, but farmers were not taking to it due to excessive weed growth in this method. The new machine has been successfully tested on 200 acres last year and will be used for direct paddy sowing on 3,000 acres this year, before it is commercially used across the state, said Pannu.

The initiative is being taken as the government realised that whatever they do, it is a near impossible to wean farmers away from paddy immediately. Though the government has constituted a committee to look into what other crops the farmers can be exhorted to grow, the lack of forward and backward linkages for such crops is a deterrent.

Punjab comes in the category of water stressed states, with 105 of 138 blocks being categorised in the dark zone. The extraction of underground water, as per the Central Ground Water Board Report of 2019, is 165 per cent as against 149 per cent in 2013. Underground water recharging in the state is 21.58 billion cubic metres annually, while the gross water withdrawal is 35.78 BCM.

Agriculture experts reason that paddy in one acre consumes 60 lakh litres of water. It is thus the PAU has been demanding that only early maturing varieties of paddy be used, and long duration maturing varieties be denotified. Agriculture Department officials say even the suggestion to compensate farmers for not planting paddy has not found much favour, just as unwillingness to shift to other crops because of paddy getting an assured return. Thus, till the time farmers are ready to shift to other crops, interventions will have to be made to ensure that paddy becomes more environmental friendly.

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