A half-hearted push

Sushil Manav

CONVENTIONALLY, crop diversification refers to farming wherein farmers cultivate a variety of crops and undertake enterprises on their farms. Household food and income security were once the basic objectives of agricultural diversification. In recent times, however, crop diversification is being considered necessary to overcome impediments to the development of agriculture not only in Haryana, but also in the entire country.

The debate over the farm laws and the demand for ensuring MSP for various crops has turned the spotlight on crop diversification — breaking away from the wheat-paddy cycle.

Dr Dilip Monga, a prominent agriculture scientist and former head of Sirsa-based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), says crop diversification is not a new phenomenon as over 65 per cent of the crops grown in Punjab (Haryana was then part of it) before 1966 were other than wheat and paddy.

“It was only after 1966 that the assured purchase of wheat and paddy at MSP, high productivity of these crops, easier cultivation and free or subsidised water and electricity prompted farmers to prefer these two crops. Now, 90 per cent of the cultivable land in Haryana is under wheat and paddy,” Monga explains.

He adds that owing to factors like accumulation of buffer stocks of wheat and paddy, stagnation in yield and depletion of the water table, crop diversification is again being talked about in the past decade or so.

Is crop diversification viable for farmers? Monga says that the alternative crops farmers are advised to opt for will become viable for them only if the government can ensure their procurement at good prices and provide a support system for their growth by ensuring agro-industries and processing units.

Gurjeet Singh Mann, a progressive farmer who has attended several international workshops on agriculture, including as a panellist in the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative in China and India, says that crop diversification was in the spotlight even before the new farm laws were passed. However, the issue has now come in the public domain with non-farmers asking why farmers keep sowing wheat and paddy alone.

Mann says that only farmers and farm scientists know about the perils involved in the diversification of crops. “In fact, wheat and paddy are also products of crop diversification. Wheat came with the Green Revolution, leaving mustard, oats and sesame behind, while rice cultivation gained ground because of the failure of other kharif crops like cotton, maize, bajra, guar, groundnuts, castor, sunflower and pulses. Electrification and better irrigation, apart from a big impetus through MSP and an assured market, impelled farmers to move towards paddy,” he adds.

Mann admits that the marketing of alternative crops is a major challenge. Also, their production is getting tougher over the years because of non-availability of good seeds and increased biotic and other stresses.

Several farmers this reporter spoke to say that lack of cold storage at economical rates in the vicinity is a stumbling block that stops them from going for perishable crops. Further, going in for a new crop also means buying new machinery, which has now become crop-specific. “A wheat seeder won’t double up as a potato planter,” say farmers. They maintain that a half-hearted push for random crops in the name of diversification by the government makes farmers lose interest in such crops, because they sow them for a living and not for trials.

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