How farmers in Punjab are sowing seeds of hope

Farmers in three districts of Punjab have sown cotton instead of paddy for the first time in 20 years. This is a big achievement for the state.

 |  3-minute read |   16-06-2020
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The missing helping hand, which was a firm push from the regime in Punjab, cleaned up the procurement process and enhanced minimum support price. With this, a few of the farmers in Punjab are dumping the water guzzler paddy crop to sow cotton during this Kharif season. Along with paddy, some farmers also dumped the guar crop in the Abohar, Mansa and surrounding regions.

The sowing season for this industrial crop started in the first week of May — when India was witnessing the worst phase of the exodus of migrant labourers—and there was uncertainty on the capability of the state governments to bring them back in time for sowing paddy. In the current Kharif season, farmers in Punjab freed up 2.17 lakh acres of land to grow this crop. This includes intensifying the farms, where last year, farmers grew cotton in portions of their farms along with paddy —especially in the cotton belt of Punjab — Bathinda, Mansa, Fazilka, Muktsar.

main_paddy-punjab-fa_061620111008.jpgUnlike cotton, paddy is a labour-intensive crop. Paddy needs preparation of a nursery and replanting the sampling in the puddled fields. (Photo: Reuters)

Last year Punjab added roughly 3.1 lakh acres under cotton. This year it has grown cotton in 11.86 lakh acres of farm and missed the target of 12.5 lakh acres. If we compare it with the area under rice, it is 66.69 lakh acres — including 17.3 lakh acre under the longer grain basmati—albeit the cotton is a distant competitor. It is positive that the farmers are accepting the diversification.

Unlike cotton, paddy is a labour-intensive crop. Like paddy, cotton is procured at minimum support price (cotton corporations of India buys cotton from farmers) —this year it was enhanced from Rs 5,450 per quintal to Rs 5,825 for the same quantity. This makes the switch over easier. Maintaining the interests of farmers in the cotton crop is difficult. Cotton requires much more involvement from farmers. The rains in May and June impact the crop’s productivity negatively. Cotton crop is sensitive to attacks from pests and weeds more than other Kharif crops.

During this season, the uncertainty of labour was the biggest motivator. Paddy needs preparation of a nursery and replanting the sampling in the puddled fields. Labourers from Bihar and eastern UP have expertise in planting paddy. In the lockdown, they went back to their homes. The paddy sowing was delayed in Punjab by 10 days (from June 10) to allow the return of workers. Farmers in three districts — Fatehgarh Sahib, Ludhiana and Patiala — albeit in small patches (161 acres) have sown cotton, for the first time in 20 years. This is a big achievement for the state.

The farmers are offering remunerations, accommodation, and food, to get the workforce back in farms to sow paddy. The focus is that if more farmers can be motivated to opt for other crops like maize and sugarcane and venture out of paddy. Last year, 7.5 lakh acres was pulled out of paddy, with farmers shifting to cotton and maize.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: How Covid-19 is helping water-stressed Punjab change its agricultural practices

Writer

Anilesh S Mahajan Anilesh S Mahajan @anileshmahajan

Senior associate editor, Business Today

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