Problems of Agriculture in Punjab

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Posted by admin | Posted in Agri Knowledge | Posted on 02-05-2016

Agricultural issues in Punjab

By: Mandeep Pujara
Co-Chair Agri Science Initiative
Project Director ATMA- Sustainable Agriculture Development Agency,
Govt. of Punjab, India

1. Mono-cropping and Faulty Cropping Practices

The primary reason for the looming environmental crisis in Panjab is the introduction of intensive agriculture under the Green Revolution. The double monocropping of winter wheat (kanak) and summer rice (jhona / munji) has increased the grain harvest in Panjab since the sixties. However, this has resulted in water use beyond its sustainability due increased demand for irrigation. In addition, the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has added to the environmental degradation. The soils of Punjab have become deficient in micronutrients in a space of 45 years. Intensive agriculture practices have deteriorated the pedosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere of Punjab.

Rice is not a traditional crop in Punjab. The rice fields in Punjab state are consuming 85% of all freshwater supplies. In fact, India is using ‘virtual water’ by getting wheat and rice from Punjab state; it is the water resources of Punjab state that get depleted. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) feels that ‘the situation has reached such alarming proportions that questions are now being asked as to what extent rice cultivation should be permitted in the irrigated Indo-Gangetic Plains, and how to sustain the productivity of the region without losing the battle on the water front’. There has also been a major reduction in the planting of crops that use less water such as pulses, millet, vegetables and fruits.

 2. Pricing of Agricultural Products

Ceilings on the pricing of agricultural products imposed by the Central government of India on the Panjabi farmers have restricted the planting of crops other than wheat and rice. Government interventions like the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and procurement policies have had adverse effects for the Panjabi farmers. It places restrictions on free movement of agricultural products that have resulted in the farmers being forced to accept lower prices. The production of food crops has become a loss making venture. India has achieved food surplus status and profited but it is unfortunate that these gains were not passed on to the farmers of Punjab state.

3.Marketing and Distribution of Agricultural Products

Farmers in Punjab state cannot sell their agricultural produce in the open market, but only in the mandis (wholesale markets) in a weekly village market or at a nearby town. The mandis are controlled by the arthiyas (commission agents) and mashokars (middlemen) who pay a fee to the government.  Most arthiyas are also moneylenders to whom the farmers may be indebted. Furthermore, India and Pakistan’s traditional and incompetent agricultural marketing system has resulted in inefficiency in the marketing and distribution of Panjab’s agricultural products.

4.Lack of Economic Liberalization

The diversification of Punjab state’s agrarian economy has been stunted. This has resulted in continued intensive agricultural practices with its accompanying environmental degradation. There is an urgent need for the promotion of domestic and foreign private investment in a more efficient agricultural processing and marketing system and liberalization of import and export policies. However, restrictions have been placed on the farmers on the movement of agricultural produce. There are restrictions on transport from Punjab state to other states in India or to other countries. For example, in January 2004 the Indian Government lifted the restrictions on the export of wheat from all states except from Punjab and Haryana!

5.The Pesticide Dilemma

Pesticides are chemicals used to control a whole range of pests and include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and rodenticides. Although Punjab state is only 1.5 % of the land area of India, it uses about 18% of the total pesticide usage in India. Moreover, the south-western districts of Malwa region are consuming about 75% of pesticides used in Punjab state. There are serious environmental problems and health concerns resulting from the use of pesticides. Studies in Panjab have shown that there are pesticide residues in breast milk, milk from cattle, and in fruits and vegetables.

6. GM Crops (Genetically modified)

India began the planting of genetically modified (GM) crops in March 2002. In 2005, the north zone, which includes Punjab state, received approval for the planting of Bt cotton (cotton plants modified with genes of bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis). Farmers who have grown Bt cotton have found that the crop is not resistant to pests and they have to spray insecticides sold by the GM company. Rapeseed mustard (sarson – Brassica juncea) is one of the most important oilseed and food crops in Panjab. An Indian company  has developed a GM variety of mustard. This new GM mustard variety with five foreign genes in it, might pose risks for human health and the environment. GM mustard will also be a sensitive issue in Panjab as it contains a tobacco gene.

 7. Plight of the Farmers: Debts and Suicides

The cost of agricultural production has increased every year but the income of the Panjabi farmers has not increased. Farmers are spending more to buy costly inputs for agricultural production. They face endless power cuts and if they have to depend on generators, that is also expensive as diesel costs are increasing. Farming today is essentially a debt-based activity. Land is mortgaged to the banks and sahukars (moneylenders) and the owners have no resources to repay their debts. According to the Movement Against State Repression (MASR), farmer indebtedness in the state has multiplied almost four times since 1996.

The Punjab state government has confirmed that 2,116 farmers have committed suicide since 1988. However, a survey by the MASR estimated that about 40,000 farmers have so far committed suicide in the state over the past 17 years. Agricultural experts are expressing concern at the impoverishment and increasing landlessness of the Panjabi farmers. However, some are unfortunately recommending technological solutions, contract farming and the use of big corporations in agribusiness instead of looking for holistic and sustainable solutions.

8.Environmental Concerns and Women’s Rights

Women’s employment in family farms is rarely recognized as economically productive. Moreover, the men generally control any income generated from this work. Boys who help in the family farms are usually given pocket money but not the women and girls. Panjabi women do play a major role in agricultural production, raising livestock and cottage industries. They participate in all operations related to crop production and carry out these tasks in addition to their normal domestic chores. With the degradation of the environment and water scarcity, women will also be forced to trek several kilometres just to fetch water.

9.Landless Farmers

The Green Revolution has resulted in a growing pauperisation of marginal and poor peasants, thus adding to the landless. They have no employment chances in urban areas because there is insufficient industrial development. Many farmers are in debt and are unable to pay their loans. They are then forced to sell their land and have become landless labourers.. However, most of these agricultural workers live below the poverty line. Some of them get loans from the landlords and these accumulate over time as they have high interest rates. After generations, the repayment of the debt becomes impossible. Hence, they and their families end up as bonded laboures to the landlords.

10.Sustainable Development and Agricultural Diversification

There is an urgent need for the diversification of agriculture in Punjab with the emphasis on the application of integrated farm principles, implementation of sustainable practices, organic farming, green farming and environmental friendly techniques. This entails the use of an holistic approach using eco-farming and agro-ecological principles and based on local agro-climatic conditions. There must be changes in cropping patterns to include the planting of vegetables, fruits, herbs, mushrooms, fibre crops, oilseeds and fodder crops. Others are medicinal, aromatic and spice crops. Panjabi farmers can also diversify through floriculture, horticulture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, apiculture and silviculture. These will provide rural employment through village based agro-industries. In addition, there has to be adequate infrastructure for harvesting, post-harvest handling, processing, storage, quality control and assured marketing.

Measures that help to protect the soil from erosion and conserve water need to be implemented. One of the crucial ways of tackling desertification, salinization and land degradation, is through the planting of native tree species for shelterbelts to retain soil moisture and to reduce soil erosion. Others include the planting of crops that use less water and better irrigation techniques such as rainwater harvesting, micro-irrigation techniques and drip irrigation. There is also an urgent need for a change in government policies to overcome the effects of environmental degradation in Panjab. These include the removal of subsidies for fertilizers and electricity, the reform of commodity prices, and improving the marketing and distribution of agricultural produce. The Panjabi farmers also need to be given the freedom to export agricultural products and participate in world trade.

11.Climate change Impact on Agriculture

There will be a major effect on agrosystems in Panjab due to climate change. The depletion of soil water will result in moisture stress, poor harvest and lower productivity. Global warming would, however, promote better yields of winter crops like legumes and reduce frost damage of oilseeds. It might result in the reduction of the growing season of rice and cotton, allowing farmers to plant an additional leguminous crop. However, the increase in the need for irrigation will probably lead to higher costs of production. Additionally, climate change would also affect the landuse patterns of agriculture and herding. Further, the desiccation of semi-arid areas would also endanger food production in the plains of Panjab. The economic liberalization of Panjab will be essential to the opening up of agriculture, which will lead to a diversification of cropping patterns in the changing climatic patterns.

Drought and Desertification

Drought in various parts of Punjab state are probably the result of climate change according to R. Pachauri, chief of IPCC. Unusually hot winds will keep away the regular monsoon rains, bringing drought to Panjab. This will intensify with the coming years resulting in the increased desertification of Panjab.

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