Agriculture Policy Briefing

How Punjab Can Regain Its Primacy in Agriculture in 13 Points

Woman cutting basmati in October 2015 at village Mehma Sarja, near Gonjana mandi, Bhatinda. Photo by Vivian Fernandes.

A summary of the suggestions made by agricultural economist Ashok Gulati and former agriculture secretary Siraj Hussain in the Indian Express.

  • Punjab’s agricultural sector growth has slowed from 5.7 percent a year, or more than double the all-India average of 2.3 percent between 1972 and 1986 to less than half (1.6 percent a year) of the national average (3.5 percent a year) between 2006 and 2015.
  • Madhya Pradesh has become the star performer in agriculture, replacing Punjab.
  • From being the state with the highest per capita income among 21 large states till 2003, Punjab has slipped to the seventh position.
  • Punjab’s agriculture is the most insulated from weather shocks: 98.5 percent of its cropped area is irrigated; about 80 percent of it is groundwater-based.
  • The state is growing rice for which it is not suited, at least not common rice. Rice cultivation has been aided by a Rs 7,000 cr subsidy on power this year.
  • Punjab’s water table is receding. In 110 of 132 blocks, groundwater has been over-exploited or the recharge rate is below the rate at which water is being pumped out.
  • Punjab’s villages are connected with good roads; it has the best mandi infrastructure.
  • But assured procurement of rice and wheat at support prices has made Punjab’s farmers risk averse. They persist with the wheat-rice cycle which occupies more than 83 percent of the state’s cropped area.
  • Punjab must diversify into maize which can be used for poultry feed, cattle silage and industrial starch. Since there is little procurement, the state must encourage processing industries. The new Goods and Services Tax regime can help.
  • Punjab must get out of cultivation of common rice and remain only in basmati which offers better value. The rice area vacated must be put under sugarcane, fruits and vegetables, using micro-irrigation.
  • The dairy and meat industries complement Punjab’s agriculture. Its milk yield is the highest in the country but only 10 percent of it is processed unlike 50 percent in Gujarat.
  • Sixty-seven percent of Punjab’s milch cattle are buffaloes; it can have a thriving meat export industry if it eradicates foot and mouth disease.
  • Less than three percent of Punjab’s cropped area is under fruits and vegetables. This must go up to 10 percent over the next five years. The government will need to invest in marketing infrastrucuture. With protected cultivation, an integrated cold chain and a vibrant food processing industry Punjab can tap West and Central Asian markets for fresh and processed produce through Gujarat’s Kandla port.

Link to the Indian Express article

(Photo: Woman cutting basmati in village Mehma Sarja, near Gonjana mandi, district Bhatinda. October 2015. By Vivian Fernandes)

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