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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Shift from paddy-wheat cycle to oilseeds isn’t as difficult as it appears for Punjab

Also a little push from the state will ready buyers for oilseeds crop because of its huge consumption and less domestic production, experts say.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar |
May 31, 2021 3:29:47 am
punjab farmers wheat paddyFarmers sort sunflower seeds in Nabaha Mandi. (File)

At a time when India is meeting over 60% of its edible oil demand through imports at high prices and when Punjab’s farmers are targeted for growing only two crops, wheat-paddy, that are supported by an assured MSP, can not the Punjab government, which is blaming the Centre for interfering in agriculture being a state subject and had negated the three farm laws by passing its own three legislations, not frame some policy/law and take initiative to encourage farmers to grow oilseeds, that once used to be its traditional crop but has now been forgotten to a large extent.

Also, a little push from the state will ready buyers for oilseeds crop because of its huge consumption and less domestic production, experts say.

Why is Punjab, which has all the right to make laws on agricultural subject, not taking steps to become self-dependent or be the leader in growing oilseeds. The answer is lack of political will as well as no vision of the successive governments towards diversification of crops, farmer leaders say.

Punjab used to cultivate almost 8 times more area under oilseeds than what is is cultivating now.

Data sourced from the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) Ludhiana, revealed that in 1967-68, Punjab had 3.99 lakh hectares area under oilseeds cultivation (which was maximum in its history since 1960-61).

This area reduced to 48,900 hectares (provisional) in 2019-20 which is over 8 times less in area than what it was over five decades back. Also the total production then was 3.14 lakh tonnes, which came down to around 56,000 tonnes in 2018-19.

Earlier, groundnut, sesamum, cotton (kharif crops) while sunflower, rapeseed and mustard (rabi crops) used to be grown in large areas.

The area under groundnut cultivation was 2.22 lakh hectares in 1967-68 which has now come down to just 1,800 hectares. While the production has come down from 2.40 lakh tonnes to 3,600 tonnes but the yield has increased from 1,024 kg to 1,980 kg per hectare because of good quality of seeds.

Similarly, area of rapeseed/mustard has come down to around 3,800 hectares from 1.80 lakh hectares five decades back and the production is now 57,000 tonnes against the then 1.40 lakh tonnes. The per hectare yield of this crop has doubled from 778 kg to 1,478 kg per hectare.

Sunflower, which was introduced in Punjab in the early 1990s, had 1.03 lakh hectares in 1995-96 which has now reduced to 4,400 hectares and its production came down from 1.61 lakh tonnes to 8,300 tonnes. However, its yield has increased from 1,566 kg to 1,886 kg per hectare now.

Seamum was cultivated in 25,600 hectares in 1974-75 which has come down to 41,000 hectares now while its yield too has decreased from 359 kg to 345 kg per hectares.

Talking to The Indian Express, Dr Virender Sardana, Principal Agronomist (oilseeds) at PAU, said, “Punjab is blessed to have agro-climatic conditions that are best suited for growing both kharif and rabi season oilseeds. We had been a big producer of these crops till the onset of the Green Revolution when farmers moved to wheat-paddy cycle. It is because of the assured market price that the farmers have got used to. Demand for oilseeds in India is huge. What it calls for is only a little impetus and focused approach of the state government. Paddy is a known water-guzzling crop, and we are not exporting rice but exporting our precious ‘ground blue water’.”

“Fortunately, almost all the sarson (mustard) grown in Punjab is Canola sarson, which is the best among all varieties from a health point of view and Punjab can become the leading producer of this crop in the country too. As much Punjab moves to oilseeds, it dependence on the central government will reduce, which has of late, been putting difficult conditions on the state and its farmers just before the wheat and paddy procurment season,” he said.
“Even if Punjab government buys Canola sarson directly from farmers and export it under its own established brands such as Sohna of Markfed, it will soon run out of stock as the well-developed western markets of Europe and North America only use Canola Sarson for human consumption and no other,” he said, adding that Sohna’s ‘Sarson da Saag’ is already a big hit among NRIs settled in Europe, Australia and North America.

Farmers would be far more than happy to cultivate Canola sarson instead of wheat as it consumes less water, less time and less input cost while its MSP is also quite good, he said.

Currently, the total consumption of oil in the state is around 0.54 million tonnes to 0.60 million tonnes. According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare data, the per capita oil consumption of India is around 19.5 kg.

Going by this calculation, Punjab’s consumption will come around to 0.54 million tonnes as Punjab has 2.77 crore population. And this consumption is 2.07% of country’s total oil consumption.

Punjab’s gross cropped area in 2018-19 was estimated at 78.30 lakh hectares (lh). Out of that, 35.20 lh was under wheat cultivation and another 31.03 lh under paddy, adding up to 84.6% of the total area planted to all crops. That ratio was just over 32% in 1960-61 and 47.4% in 1970-71. This was the result of the Green Revolution.

“Punjab needs to divert at least 10-12 lakh hectares to other crops. The state can easily increase area under oilseeds by reviving areas under groundnut, sesame, cotton, mustard oil, sunflower and these crops can be easily grown on 10 to 15 hecatres during kharif and rabi seasons collectively. But the state government needs to support its farmers just like other state government do if the MSP of any crop goes down,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, BKU (Dakuanda), adding that farmers can grow anything provided he gets an assured market for his produce.

“Why is the government unable to keep a corpus of few 100 crores for crops other than wheat and paddy for support in case of need,” asks a farmer.

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