Punjab is in desperate need of agricultural reforms and to replace the wheat- rice cropping cycle that is no longer economically, socially, or ecologically viable in 2021. Both the central and state governments need to work in tandem to develop a sustainable farming model for crops other than wheat and rice in Punjab.
The government needs to aid and encourage crop diversification and the sowing of less water-intensive crops such as maize, pulses, oilseeds, fruits, and vegetables by guaranteeing MSP for alternative crops.
News outlet The Wire reported in 2020 that farmer unions and political parties came together to request that the government of Punjab deploy procurement agencies to purchase maize (corn) at MSP. The government refused, and farmers who had harvested maize had to sell their produce at a price between Rs 800-900 Rs per quintal. This number is far below the MSP price of Rs 1,850.
Notably, the Government of Punjab’s procurement agency has never bought crops other than wheat and rice at an assured MSP.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) general secretary Jagmohan Singh notes that while farmers are often advised to diversify their crops, they need central and state government to work with them to develop a ‘roadmap’ to ensure that farmers do not incur losses if they sow alternative crops. He states that “farmers are already trapped in sowing potatoes or other crops for which they never get good returns of their produce”. The government also needs to devise a policy to compensate farmers when they shift to sowing less water-intensive crops to mitigate the adverse economic impacts of the transition.
Agricultural scientist Sardara Singh Johal suggests that until farmers are guaranteed MSP for alternative crops they will not make the transition away from the wheat-rice cycle. “Through MSP, the government gives assurance to the producers before the sowing season that they will procure their produce at least at the specified price”.
Similarly, Economist R.S. Ghuman argues that the wheat-rice cycle became successful in Punjab because of the availability of HYV seeds, subsidized irrigation, fertilizers, and an assured MSP from central and state governments. “Unless this combination is there for alternative crops, no diversification can take place in Punjab”.
While wheat is Punjab’s natural crop and consumes much less water than rice, rice is a completely alien crop to the state. Kesar Singh, Professor of Economics at Punjabi University in Patiala notes that “it is sown in the season when pulses or other high valued crops are also available and it can be easily diversified. But the problem is that farmers must be given assured returns. They should not be left in the lurch if they agree to grow alternative crops”.
The Punjab State Farmers’ and Farm Workers’ Commission drafted the Punjab State Farmer’s Policy in 2018 and point out that with the right support from the government, the transition to and the implementation of a more profitable, modern, environmentally friendly, nutritionally sound, and diversified agricultural policy would not be that difficult. This is because Punjab has fertile soil, has 99% of its cultivated area under irrigation, and has the agricultural infrastructure already in place.