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India - Make alternative crops attractive

Alarmingly dire situations call for urgent and immediate measures. With 75 per cent of its groundwater already extracted, it is imperative for Haryana to arrest the depleting water table. It must ensure that its schemes reach the last acre and are implemented in totality so that soil health and its hydrological levels are restored. Any whiff of a scam or siphoning off of funds meant for the endeavour, if not dealt with strictly, will cost the state dearly, with the shadow of desertification looming large. The latest incentives to steer farmers away from the water-guzzling non-basmati paddy variety to maize or pulses include Rs 2,000 per acre, subsidised seeds and free crop insurance. Of the 1.95 lakh hectares under this cultivation, the government hopes to divert 50,000 hectares to alternative crops. An eagle eye on every transaction is needed to ensure that every penny of this scheme is accounted for; only that will make the intended difference. Saathi (summer paddy) was banned about a decade ago, but efforts to curb its plantation have left a lot to be desired. Who is answerable for the loss of precious groundwater so caused?

The peasant is not able to break free from the paddy-wheat cycle to crop diversification because paddy continues to give him higher returns and MSP. Plus, the ad hoc nature of the doles promised rather than long-term lucrative prices and marketing of alternative crops make him wary of shifting. Attractive prices for these crops should not be difficult to give. Weighing in the cost factor of paddy against the other crops reveals its feasibility. Consider this: the production of 1 kg rice leaves the soil drier by 2,497 litres of water. On top, a large portion of the power subsidy — worth Rs 6,700 crore was given in the state in 2017 as per the Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission — goes into paddy cultivation.

Punjab, too, would do well to urgently review whether power subsidy doled out to paddy farmers is not rendering the state a net loser. Irretrievable loss of groundwater and soil health is staring the state in the face.

Source – https://www.tribuneindia.com/

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