Baldev Singh Dhillon and Raj Kumar
DURING the kharif season, maize (sauni-makki) used to be the most important crop in Punjab up to 1973-74, when it was cultivated on 5.67 lakh hectares (ha), followed by cotton (American and desi, 5.23 lakh ha) and paddy (parmal and basmati, 4.99 lakh ha). Both paddy and cotton overtook sauni-makki in 1974-75. Thereafter, paddy cultivation continued to expand at the cost of maize and other kharif crops, its acreage being 31.45 lakh ha during 2021-22. In contrast, the acreage of sauni-makki decreased from the peak of 5.77 lakh ha (1975-76) to 1.05 lakh ha (2021-22), and that of American cotton from 7.01 lakh ha (1988-89) to 2.49 lakh ha (2021-22). Further, area under other kharif crops such as desi cotton, groundnut, pearl millet and pulses kept shrinking.
During the TE (triennium ending) 2021-22, Hoshiarpur (53,200 ha) and Rupnagar (21,700 ha) accounted for around 68 per cent of the sauni-makki area in the state.
Sauni-makki has lost better-endowed and managed area to paddy, squeezing its cultivation mostly to relatively less fertile land with inadequate irrigation facilities, Most of the sauni-makki growers are resource-poor. Thus, it is cultivated under sub-optimal management conditions. The use of fertilisers is inadequate and that of weedicides and pesticides is practically absent. Sauni-makki yield is also not stable because of its sensitivity to the vagaries of weather. Erratic rain causes greater harm to sauni-makki, unlike paddy, as it is highly sensitive to excess moisture stress. If there is drought, farmers divert irrigation resources from sauni-makki to paddy.
During the TE 2021-22, the state’s average yield of parmal, the predominant paddy variety procured by the government (it occupied 96 per cent and 92 per cent of the area under paddy in Hoshiarpur and Rupnagar districts, respectively), was 67.56 quintals/ha. In comparison, sauni-makki’s yield was 37.18 q/ha. Sauni-makki has a relatively lower MSP. Assuming that sauni-makki produce was sold at MSP, its economic returns were lower than those of parmal by about
Rs 20,000/acre (based on three years’ average up to 2021-22). Actually, in the absence of procurement, market prices fall substantially (40-50 per cent) below MSP.
The poor management of the sauni-makki crop is manifested by a huge gap between its realisable yield potential and that obtained by farmers. The average yield of the recommended hybrids and composites of sauni-makki, as per the Package of Practices for Crops of Punjab — Kharif (PAU, 2023), is 57.48 q/ha, whereas the farmers in Punjab got 37.18 q/ha during the TE 2021-22. In contrast, the difference between the realisable yield potential of parmal (73.79 q/ha) and the state average (67.56 q/ha) is only 6.23 q/ha.
Multi-pronged efforts are needed to enable sauni-makki to compete and occupy some area under paddy cultivation. These are: (i) enhancement of yield realised by the farmers, (ii) policy support to make sauni-makki cultivation as remunerative as that of paddy, (iii) promoting industrial use of maize to create demand.
Efforts are being made by the state Agriculture Department and PAU to create awareness about the merits of sauni-makki over paddy and the latest package of practices of sauni-makki cultivation. These need to be stepped up. These endeavours can boost the realised yield and enhance returns, but may have little effect on the expansion of sauni-makki area. Sauni-makki farming has to be as remunerative as that of parmal to spur farmers to replace area under paddy with maize. For that, assured marketing at MSP may not be enough, and the farmers’ income may have to be augmented to draw them towards cultivating sauni-makki.
The creation of demand for maize also merits attention, for which the industry should play a key role. Maize production in Punjab is far less than its local demand. The maize available in the local market has generally very high moisture content and drying cost. Therefore, the industry prefers to buy it from distant markets — Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.
The industry needs to be motivated to purchase locally produced sauni-makki. Further, more processing industries will have to be installed with an emphasis on ethanol production. In view of the long gestation period of new projects, the initial focus should be on supporting farm animal and poultry feed industry to produce quality feed. As per estimates, Punjab can utilise around 50 lakh tonnes of maize for this purpose, whereas it is producing only 4-odd lakh tonnes.
Some suggestions to enable sauni-makki to garner some area under paddy to diversify the kharif cropping system are as follows:
- Promote sauni-makki cultivation by creating awareness about its advantages over paddy cultivation, such as lower irrigation requirement, no adverse effect on soil health, and that wheat has higher yield (4 to 5 q/ha) when sown after sauni-makki than paddy.
- Ensure timely availability of quality inputs, such as seed, fertilisers and pesticides.
- The Punjab State Seed Corporation should be strengthened for the production of hybrid seeds.
- Ensure that sauni-makki produce is sold at MSP. The industry must contribute by promoting sauni-makki cultivation and purchasing the produce at MSP.
The next step should be to enhance farmers’ profit by making sauni-makki cultivation as remunerative as that of paddy. With the shift in area from paddy to sauni-makki, there will be savings in subsidies on power supply and cost of paddy straw management.
The use of sauni-makki to diversify the cropping system is a challenging task. For its success, all stakeholders — the government, the industry and farmers — must join hands.
Dhillon is former VC and Kumar is Principal Extension Scientist (Agricultural Economics), PAU, Ludhiana
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