Renowned agricultural scientist and vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, Baldev Singh Dhillon wants farmers in other parts of the country to learn from Punjab and Haryana experience and judiciously use groundwater and fertiliser, to avoid problems faced by these two states today. Dhillon spoke to Sandip Das on the challenges faced by Punjab farmers and stressed on the need for a region-based policy for developing Indian agriculture.
Punjab has initiated a crop diversification programme to tackle with the problem of depleting water tables. How is it going?
Diversification is the need of the hour for both Punjab and Haryana. The agriculture in these two states is demand-driven and there is more demand for rice and wheat. The central government has increased the Minimum
Support Price (MSP) relatively fast in the recent years compared to what was happening earlier. There is a market for rice and wheat in Punjab and Haryana—so it is difficult for other crops to compete. Another advantage of growing rice here is if there is drought, farmers utilise irrigation facilities and if there is adequate rainfall, there is no need of irrigation. But in case of alternate crops such as cotton and maize, if there is heavy rain, the crop gets adversely impacted. Punjab has received R250 crore for crop diversification in the current year. It will take some more time before diversification becomes a reality.
Other states, including Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, are now producing substantial quantity of rice thus contributing to central pool. So, Punjab can diversify a chunk of area under paddy to other crop.
There are many layers to this crisis. Unless we can provide an alternate crop which provides a profit similar to that from paddy, it would be very difficult for Punjab farmers to adopt any other crop. We have identified maize and cotton as alternate crops. We are moving in that direction. It needs to be kept in mind, however, that the production of key foodgrains like rice and wheat may fluctuate at the national level, but the contribution of
Punjab and Haryana have been stable. It is only in the last few years, that the central government has been asking Punjab and Haryana farmers to diversify. Otherwise, the central government was never keen on diversification.
The ground water table in Punjab has reached critical stage in many regions. What should the government do in such a situation?
Punjab agriculture has to diversify and there