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Friday, October 7, 2022

Punjab's incentives for water-efficient paddy find few takers

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<br>In Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government announced Rs 1,500 per acre support for farmers opting for the direct seeding of rice (DSR) technique, while in Haryana, the country’s another prominent granary, a cash incentive of Rs 4,000 per acre was offered as a pilot project for water conservation.

Haryana has set a target of one lakh acres of paddy sowing with the DSR method in 12 leading paddy-growing districts while Punjab aimed to bring 12 lakh hectares (29.64 lakh acres) with this technology.

In Punjab, which covered 30.84 lakh hectares, comprising 4.65 lakh hectares of highly remunerative basmati rice, under paddy sowing this season which just concluded, farmers blame erratic power supply to tubewells and lack of canal water to irrigate the fields to shun the traditional way of sowing saplings in puddle fields.

As per official records, Punjab could achieve just 6.7 per cent of the total target this season. Compared to last year, this time there is a 85 per cent decline in the direct-seeded rice method.

In 2021, 5.62 lakh hectares (13.88 lakh acres) was under DSR in the state, the highest ever.

In Haryana, over 22,685 farmers were registered for bringing 1.08 lakh acres under the DSR technique — a method that saves the fast depleting groundwater table, besides encouraging late rice variety sowing in the kharif season.

Using this technique, which as per experts could help save 15 to 20 per cent of groundwater for irrigation and reduce costs by Rs 6,000 per acre, one can mechanically drill paddy seeds directly into the field. The machine does the seeding of rice and spraying of herbicide simultaneously.

"There were erratic pre-monsoon showers. Also the canal water was not adequate during the sowing owing to a breach in the Sirhind canal. So we have decided to go for the traditional puddle method this time. Last year, we opted for the mechanized technique and it helped in reducing labour and input costs, besides the yield was on a par with the crop grown by traditional method," Ajaib Singh, a farmer on the outskirts of Ferozepur town, told Ajit Weekly News over phone.

He said most of the farmers in the area preferred the traditional method owing to lack of canal water.

Officials told Ajit Weekly News that owing to the breach in the Sirhind canal, farmers in several districts of the Malwa region faced water scarcity.

"In fact, pre-monsoon rains remained significantly low in Punjab and Haryana this season. Due to frequent prolonged dry spells and extended heatwave conditions over these areas in May and June, there was lack of moisture in the fields. That is why the DSR didn’t find favour with farmers this season," a Punjab Agriculture Department official told Ajit Weekly News.

Blaming the government for lack of training programmes about the benefits of the DSR method, Gurdev Singh from Moga rued, "I had initially sown paddy through DSR technique on 10 acres in the last week of May. This was my first attempt. After a few weeks, I could not see much growth. After consulting other farmers, I ploughed the field and decided to go for puddle transplanting of rice."

The other fear of opting for mechanised paddy sowing in Punjab this time were the losses the farmers incurred with a five-year low wheat yield in the past rabi season owing to the sudden heat wave in March.

"After one crop failure, we don’t want to experiment with the second crop. We have decided to go back to the conventional method rather than wasting time on DSR sowing," another farmer Labh Singh added.

But why is the government’s incentive-driven policy of promoting direct-seeded rice technique not the way forward in Punjab?

An expert from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, says Punjab should adopt the Haryana model to impress the farmers.

In Haryana, the government under its crop diversification scheme "Mera Pani Meri Virasat" is offering Rs 7,000 per acre to the farmers for adopting alternative crops like fruits and vegetables in place of paddy. Also, insurance on crops is an added advantage, he said.

The area under paddy cultivation came down by 94,000 acres after the government started this scheme two years ago.

Also the state has introduced "Kheti Khaali, Fir Bhi Khushali". The scheme fetches Rs 7,000 per acre incentive to farmers, if they do not grow any crop in their field during the paddy season.

In another push towards switching over to alternative crops in place of water guzzler crops, the Manohar Lal Khattar-led government is providing Rs 10,000 as incentive to farmers adopting agroforestry for three years.

Agricultural experts say Punjab’s diversification push should have farmer-friendly policies like in Haryana for enabling them to switch over to alternative crops in place of water guzzler paddy.

They believe there are differences between the younger and older generation about the success of the DSR technology.

The reason: For decades farmers have been using the conventional method of sowing paddy saplings in puddled fields. They are averse to opting for the new technique. In many cases, fathers pressed their sons to plough the fields after one or two weeks owing to misconceptions and sow the paddy using the traditional method.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])

–Ajit Weekly News<br>vg/bg

News Credits – I A N S

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