FARMERS IN seven major paddy-growing districts of Haryana have agreed to opt for maize and other alternatives after the Manohar Lal Khattar-led state BJP government offered major incentives for crop diversification in an attempt to address the rapidly falling groundwater levels in the state.
According to the state Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Department, the farmers have formally registered for alternative plantations over 40,000 hectares of land. “It’s a matter of happiness that the farmers have sown maize and alternative crops keeping in view the crisis of groundwater,” Khattar said Monday.
After it emerged that the groundwater level has depleted in 76% area of the state, Khattar had in May launched a pilot scheme ‘Jal Hi Jiwan’. The objective of the scheme is to replace paddy with maize in seven major paddy-growing districts: Ambala, Yamuna Nagar, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Karnal and Sonipat.
According to agriculture department officials, 1 kg of rice requires 2,000-5,000 litres of water, depending upon its variety, soil type and time of sowing. With paddy production jumping from 39.89 lakh tonnes in 2014 to 45.16 lakh tonnes in 2018, the number of tubewells in the state also shot up from a few thousand to 8 lakh, resulting in overdrawing of groundwater.
The ‘Jal Hi Jiwan’ scheme envisages diversification of 50,000 hectare area of non-basmati rice mainly into maize, pulses or oilseeds to achieve the target.
Apart from seeds and financial assistance of Rs 5,000 per hectare, the farmer’s share of crop insurance will also be borne by the government.
Officials estimate that if farmers opt for maize in place of rice, the water saved per hectare will be about 14 lakh litres per crop season. The government says that Haryana is the first state to implement a water-saving scheme involving sowing maize as an alternative crop.
Initially, the government had offered financial incentives to farmers of only seven blocks to diversify crops across 50,000 hectares, but officials soon realised that they won’t able to achieve the target in this small area. Around two weeks ago, the government had extended the scheme to seven districts.
Gurnam Singh Chaduni, president of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, Haryana, said, “We also understand the problem of depleting ground water but the government should ensure purchase of alternative crops in place of paddy. Around 10 years ago, the government had encouraged farmers to cultivate soybean. But the farmers had returned to paddy again when the government failed to make adequate arrangements to procure soybean.”