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As farmers give new technologies a miss,water levels keep falling

Water levels in Punjab may be falling drastically,but majority of the farmers blissfully ignore agricultural practices that can save natural resources.

Written by Rajni Shaleen Chopra | Chandigarh |
August 8, 2011 1:00:22 am

Water levels in Punjab may be falling drastically,but majority of the farmers blissfully ignore agricultural practices that can save natural resources. Over the last decade,only 15 per cent of the total cultivated area in the state has been exposed to resource conservation technologies,which means less pumping of groundwater and less pollution. This,despite the fact that alarm bells are ringing as far as NASA in the US,over disappearing ground water in Punjab.

The total cultivated area in Punjab stands at 42 lakh hectares approximately. Statistics collected by the state agriculture department reveal that till the last financial year,resource conservation technologies had made inroads into only approximately 7.23 lakh hectares. In about 85 per cent of the total cultivated land,farmers routinely burn paddy straw,unmindful of the pollution caused by it,the harm it does to the soil and the burden it puts on groundwater. Conservation agriculture is still an alien concept for most farmers.

Director (Agriculture) Dr B S Sidhu said: “One of the biggest challenges faced by us is burning of paddy straw,which causes alarming levels of pollution and parches the land. For the next crop,land has to be heavily irrigated and this puts a major strain on groundwater. Greater adaptation of conservation technologies is essential to sustain present levels of production,” he added.

Strangely,it is the farmers themselves who are the biggest obstacle in the adoption of these technologies,even though these sustain natural resources and ensure higher income. Chanchal Singh,a farmer in Burj Sidhwan village near Muktsar district’s Malout,practices conservation agriculture on the 40 acres owned by him. “I sow wheat in standing paddy straw. Hence,I need to pump in less water,use less fertiliser and save approximately Rs 4,000 per acre. But I have observed that farmers in my own area completely blocking out any talk of these new practices. Despite the ban,they continue to burn paddy straw,” said the 70-year-old.

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Kahan Singh Pannu,former deputy commissioner of Amritsar,made notable strides in his district in the field of conservation agriculture. “We worked more and more on the Happy Seeder,the machine which enables sowing wheat in standing paddy straw,to make it lighter and more efficient. Farmers saw how it helped them save on irrigation and fertilisation and led to about 10 per cent higher yield. But introduction of technology is a slow process and will take time,” he said.

In Muktsar and Ferozepur districts,the Jwala Bai Nathu Ram Trust took on a NABARD project to teach more than 4,000 farmers from 60 villages about conservation agriculture practices. “Paddy harvesting begins in October. Over the next two months,almost the whole of rural Punjab burns,as paddy straw is set on fire. The challenge is in making farmers unlearn what they have been doing for 50 years. The farmers we trained initially went in for conservation agriculture practices in small plots. The benefits have made them adopt it totally,” he said. Baldev Raj,who practices conservation agriculture over his 15 acres,said: “My land is healthier now. The soil is softer because I didn’t parch it by burning paddy straw and it needs less water. And after many years,I can see the earthworms back. They were all burnt earlier,” he added.

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