Efforts by Haryana and Punjab governments in recent years to diversify crops and thereby arrest the depletion of water tables owing to large-scale cultivation of wheat and rice haven’t made much headway. Guaranteed procurement of rice and wheat by the government at minimum support prices (MSPs) has made farmers to stay with these water-intensive crops.
The Haryana government, which has been implementing a crop diversification plan since 2020, by providing financial incentives of Rs 7,000/acre to farmers for shifting from paddy to pulses, oilseeds and cotton, has so far covered only 53,000 acre in this kharif season.
While coverage of crop diversification in the state is still low against the total cropped area of around 3.5 million hectare, state government officials say that it could take couple of years more for the farmers to shift out of paddy cultivation in a meaningful manner.
The financial incentives are being provided to farmers in Haryana for keeping the land fallow so that soil nutrient content could increase.
“In 2020, more than 100,000 acres of land was covered under crop diversification, which had declined by half this year because farmers have been reluctant to shift from paddy on a large scale because of assured procurement of the crop,” Hardeep Singh, director general, department of agriculture, Haryana, said.
Alternately the Haryana government is encouraging farmers to adopt direct seeding of rice (DRS) which consumes less water, improves percolation and reduces dependence on farm labourmethod. In around one lakh acre, paddy has been translated using direct seeding method this season.
After non-adoption of earlier crop diversification by farmers, the Punjab government is expected to announce a new plan soon, whereby around a million hectare or a third of the paddy grown areas in the state would be gradually shifted to alternative crops such as cotton, maize, oilseeds and pulses, over the next five years.
According to Gurvinder Singh, director, agriculture department, the state government will also provide incentives to farmers for shifting around 10% of wheat area to alternative crops such as oilseeds and pulses.
The crop diversification would entail financial incentives to farmers, procurement of crops by state agencies at MSP rates and incentives for processing facilities. Annually, around 0.1-0.2 million hectre paddy sown will be shifted to alternate crops.
Stating that paddy cultivation has led to over-exploitation of ground water resources in the state, the Punjab Economic Survey (2020-21) had stated ‘cultivation of rice would need the use of submersible pumps which are expensive, and unlikely to be suitable for marginal and small landholding farmers”.
The survey said there was a need to diversify crops and horticulture, pulses and oilseeds act as avenues for diversification.
According to experts, the progress of crop diversification in Punjab and Haryana, leading contributor to the central pool stock, has been slow because of the open-ended rice and wheat procurement system followed by Food Corporation of India (FCI) and state agencies, farmers are reluctant to adopt less water intensive crops because of lack of procurement or marketing avenues.
Under the crop diversification programme (CDO) of the agriculture ministry, assistance is given for alternative crops demonstration, farm mechanization and value addition. Under CDP 0.63 million hectre area during 2013-14 to 2020-21 has been brought under demonstration to the farmers.