THOUGH SOWING of Kharif crops is already in its last phase, Punjab has been able to reach only 59 per cent of its crop diversification target. However, agricultural department officials claim they will be able to reach the target once sowing is over.
This year, Punjab has targeted to divert around 3.25 lakh hectares (8.02 lakh acres) from the water-guzzling paddy crop to other alternative Kharif crops including cotton, maize and Basmati. The department had decided to bring 3 lakh hectares (LH) under maize against 1.59 LH last year, 5.15 LH under cotton against around 3.92 LH last year, and 7-LH under Basmati against 6.29 LH last year. Total paddy area targeted was up to 27 LH, which included 20 LH paddy rice (parmal) and 7 LH Basmati (fine, aromatic long rice). Last year’s paddy area was 29.20 LH, including 22.91 LH under non-Basmati and 6.29 LH under Basmati.
Data sourced from the state agriculture department revealed that till date, the state has covered 5.01 LH under cotton — an increase of 1.09 LH (2.69 lakh acres) — but around 13,000 hectares short of the target. Under maize, 83,000 hectares (2.05 lakh acres) has been increased till date while 58,000 hectares more area is required to cover the target. The sowing of maize will continue till the end of this month. Similarly, around 6 lakh hectares have been covered under Basmati and sowing will end by end of this month.
By these calculations, Punjab has diverted 1.92 LH (4.74 lakh acres), which is around 59 per cent this year to date against its target of 3.25 LH. Department sources said that when Basmati sowing is completed, area of diversification will be increased.
Punjab agriculture department Director Sutantra Kumar Airi said they will achieve the target once sowing of all Kharif crops is completed. He said, “Till date, rice crop on around 26 LH has already been sown which included around 20.50 lakh hectares paddy (over 5 lakh with DSR technique), and over 6 LH Basmati. We are expecting to cover at least one more lakh hectare under Basmati, the sowing of which will be completed by next week.”
He further said that under maize, they had targeted 3 LH, out of which sowing on 2.42 LH is done and around 8,000-10,000 hectares more area will be covered in the coming week and it will cross 2.50 LH. “Maize had not seen area even up to 2-LH in the past two decades,” he added.
Data shows 25.19 LH area was under paddy in 2017-18, 25.05 LH in 2016-17 while area under Basmati was 5.46 LH in 2017-18 and 5.10 LH in 2016-17.
All these three crops — Basmati, maize and cotton — need much lesser water as compared to paddy. Farmers of Punjab are ready to diversify area, but the poor market rate and lack of government support to these non MSP crops, especially Basmati and maize, discourage them to take the risk. Though the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) enters the market whenever the rate of cotton goes below the MSP, most of the crop is purchased by private players.
Maize and Basmati crops are completely at the mercy of private players and the government has no control over them despite the fact that private players earn huge profits from these crops after purchasing it at a very low price from farmers.