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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Punjab: Area under Basmati highest in 5 years, but still short of target

Basmati is among the crops being pushed by the Punjab government as part of crop diversification as an alternative to the water-guzzling paddy, which has had a severe effect on the state’s groundwater table.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar | August 13, 2020 6:40:46 am
In Sirsa, many takers for govt scheme Ready to face losses to save water for future, say farmers who ditched paddy for other cropsEarlier this year, amid the COVID clampdown, the MSP for paddy was increased by 2.9 per cent

DESPITE BASMATI rice being at sold at high rates in the international market, Punjab could only increase the area under this crop by a little over 25,000 hectares (around 62,000 acres) as opposed to the target of 70,000 hectares.

Basmati is among the crops being pushed by the Punjab government as part of crop diversification as an alternative to the water-guzzling paddy, which has had a severe effect on the state’s groundwater table.

Basmati does not come under the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime and prices of non-MSP crops always keep fluctuating, due to which farmers prefer assured price crops like paddy. However, the area under Basmati this year is the highest — 4 per cent more as compared to last year — in the past five years.

The rates of Basmati in the international market have gone up 20-25 per cent. Currently, Basmati varieties are being sold at Rs 60-72 per kg i.e Rs 6,000 to Rs 7,200 per quintal in the international market. According to a leading exporter, this is a very good rate and by these standards, more and more area should be brought under it.

“We request the Punjab government to increase the area under Basmati, which consumes less water and is the best alternative for paddy,” said Ashok Sethi, director of Punjab Rice Millers Export Association (PRMEA).

Farmers however could not earn much as they have to sell Basmati immediately in mandis to private players like exporters and big arhtiyas after harvesting and they only get what is the prevailing rate at that time.

Last year farmers sold Basmati at the rate of Rs 2,500-3500 per quintal, and the same crop is now fetching Rs 6,000-7,000 per quintal in the international market to the exporters.
Records show that Punjab had 5.10 LH under Basmati in 2016-17, 5.46 LH in 2017-18, 4.37 LH in 2018-19 and 6.25 LH in 2019-20. The total area under Basmati this year was recorded 6,50,150 hectares. Punjab government was expecting to increase this area to around 7 LH this year and wanted to keep paddy area up to 20 LH.

According to data sourced from the Punjab agriculture department, the total paddy and Basmati area recorded this year is 27.36 LH including 6.50 LH of Basmati area and 20.86 LH paddy or non-Basmati.

Last year, area under non-Basmati was 22.91 LH and and Punjab had been able to decrease 2.05 LH (5.06 lakh acres) from under paddy.

The yield of paddy is around 28-30 quintals per acre against 20-22 quintals of Basmati per acre. As per MSP of paddy, which is Rs 1,868 per quintal, they will sell paddy worth around Rs 56,000 per acre. If the rate of Basmati remains at Rs 2,500- 3,000, they may sell Rs 55,000-66,000 crop from one acre, but there is no guarantee of Basmati rates at the time of harvesting. In the past, farmers were even forced to sell at the rate of Rs 1,100-2,000 per quintal.

This Kharif season (which ended July 31), out of 22 districts, 15 witnessed an increase in Basmati area and 7 districts showed a decrease as compared to last year.

Amritsar recorded the highest area under Basmati at 1.37 LH this year against 1.39 LH last year, a decrease of 2,000 hectares, followed by Tarn Taran which recorded 97,800 hectares against 95,000 hectares last year, an increase of 2,800 hectares. Muktsar is at no. 3 with 73,500 hectares against 63,000 hectares last year, an increase of 10,500 hectares.

Sangrur has recorded 58,500 hectares against 46,000 hectares last year which marks an increase of 12,500 hectares on a year to year basis. Fazilka recorded 55,000 hectares this year against 76,000 hectares last year, a decrease of 21,000 hectares. Gurdaspur is at no. 6 with 42,900 hectares against 50,000 last year, a decrease of 7,100 hectares.

“We have no doubt diversified over two lakh hectares from water-guzzling paddy to other crops like Basmati, maize and cotton this year and wanted to increase around 7 LH hectare under Basmati, of which 6.50 LH area has already been covered. We are expecting some 1,000 hectares to come under Basmati as some short-duration varieties are still being sown in Punjab,” said Director, Punjab Agriculture Department, Dr Sutantra Kumar Airi, adding that Basmati area is highest in the state this year since 2016 and if the fluctuation of prices of non-MSP crops like Basmati is controlled, then much more area would come under it.

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