Gurjinder Singh Romana & Raj Kumar
Abrupt climatic changes often adversely affect the productivity of crops and returns from farming, leading to deepening of the crisis in the agriculture sector. The declining returns from crops like cotton, potato and basmati have adversely affected the economic condition of farmers. Besides, the unproductive expenditure on social ceremonies and over-capitalisation in agriculture, particularly by small landholders, is leading to indebtedness and economic distress. It is time to deal wisely with agriculture in the world of mechanisation and technology. The traditional paddy-wheat crop rotation is being excessively followed by Punjab’s farmers. Problems like environmental pollution, declining water table, increasing incidence of weeds, insects and diseases on crops, etc. can only be addressed through a progressive dialogue with experts rather than limiting oneself to private traders and fellow farmers at the village level.
Of 41.3 lakh hectares of cultivable land in Punjab, about 35 lakh hectares is under wheat and around 30 lakh hectares under paddy. These two crops provide about Rs 63,000 per acre as returns over variable costs, assuming average productivity of about 21 quintals per acre from wheat and 30 quintals per acre from paddy. The returns are often declining owing to the sudden incidence of pest attacks, diseases, natural calamities and sometimes a casual approach in handling these situations. Besides, the paddy-wheat monoculture has led to many agricultural problems and deteriorated the natural resource reserves at an alarming rate. The water table in the state is declining. The continuous use of brackish groundwater in agriculture has increased the concentration of toxic salts in soils. About 80 per cent of the blocks in the state are overexploited due to groundwater discharge above 100 per cent. So, by continuing paddy-wheat crop rotation, we are endangering our precious natural resource base.
In Punjab, 65 per cent of the farmers have less than 10 acres, but their share in the total cultivable land is only about 31 per cent. On the other hand, only 6.62 per cent farmers having more than 25 acres of operational holding have a share of 26 per cent cultivable land in the state. The use of modern agricultural techniques, efficient farm planning, diversified agriculture via demand-driven production and better exposure to local as well as distant markets can help the farmers in decreasing the production cost of crops, creating better demand for their agricultural produce, exploring additional working hours and ultimately making agriculture a profitable occupation.
The most debatable issue in today’s scenario of agriculture is the decreasing working hours of the workforce. The continuous decrease in the average size of holdings and increasing mechanisation in agriculture has decreased the work for the agricultural labour. Such unused workforce is often unable to get any new work in the non-farm sector. The latest cost of cultivation data shows that for one-acre paddy-wheat crop rotation, hardly 20-25 man-days were required. Crop rotation or a subsidiary occupation which can generate work for the farmers and his family throughout the year is the prime need of the hour. In this regard, farmers can approach Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) or Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) of their respective district to explore new subsidiary occupations of their choice. With the new occupations, the effective working hours in agriculture can be increased, resulting in better income for the farmer.
It is not profitable to purchase capital-intensive agricultural machinery for small-size holdings. To get full utilisation of machinery, cooperative farming needs to be promoted. Two or more farmers can pool their resources and start cooperative farming. To start cooperative farming, village Primary Agricultural Cooperative Service Societies can prove to be a lifeline for small and marginal farmers. These societies should not limit themselves to fertiliser suppliers but must come forward to promote cooperative farming, cooperative mechanisation and cooperative marketing of agricultural produce. Such an approach can reduce production costs.
Farmers mostly depend on private dealers, company agents, commission agents, agriculture traders and landlords to get credit for their day-to-day domestic and agricultural needs. They usually purchase agricultural inputs like seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, etc. from them and often use these inputs as per their instructions. These private suppliers, mostly from a non-agricultural background, having little knowledge about agriculture due to lack of farming experience and sometimes due to their vested interests, exploit the farming community. The ultimate result is the increased production cost and even crop failure. The farmers must follow modern agricultural techniques recommended by PAU to make their profession sustainable.
To reduce the production cost and enhance the productivity of crops, farmers must keep in mind some points. For example, during the rabi season, by sowing wheat crop with Zero Till Drill or Happy Seeder, and using recommended doses of fertilisers and pesticides at the right time with the right method in the right dose, farmers can curtail the production cost by Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500 per acre, besides increasing the crop productivity from 1 to 2 quintals per acre. The deep-sown gram crop, after deep ploughing and heavy pre-sowing irrigation (rauni), coupled with proper control of bacterial blight during cloudy and rainy days, can fetch better yield with the same efforts. Further applying single super phosphate or gypsum fertiliser, besides urea, to rapeseed and mustard crop and controlling all diseases by spraying 3-4 fungicide sprays starting at the crop age of 75 days, sufficient productivity can be assured. During the kharif season, almost all crops are hit hard by insects and diseases. Punjab is consuming about 5,690 metric tonnes (technical grade) of pesticides. These are adversely affecting human health and natural resources like air, water and soil directly or indirectly. Thus, to avoid this adversity, there is a dire need to follow the PAU-recommended varieties, to identify the pest and disease at the right time after continuous field crop surveillance and controlling these by using the right pesticide properly at the right time.
In Punjab, there are about 4.5 lakh tractors but it is not profitable to use even the smallest 25-HP tractor on 65 per cent of the holdings having less than 10 acres. A tractor should be used for productive field work at least for 1,000 hours in a year to make it profitable, but the actual average use of a tractor in the state is hardly 250-300 hours per annum. To reduce this extra cost, Agro Service Centres of Primary Agricultural Cooperative Service Societies must promote the machinery at the cooperative level. Besides diversification within agriculture, the surplus agricultural labour force must also be shifted to non-agriculture sector through a comprehensive policy formulation at the national level so as to sustain their minimum standard of living. Plan your agriculture business in such a way that there must be work for every member of the family. The family income can be raised collectively by all members. A person having 272 days of work in a year can be termed fully employed.
The authors are on the faculty of Department of Economics & Sociology, PAU, Ludhiana
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