Ploughing on in Punjab

Ploughing on in Punjab ever since Punjab chief minister (cm) Amarinder Singh's performance was rated highly by a popular weekly magazine in August, the state government has gone into a public relations overdrive. One of the main successes, it has claimed in full-page advertisements placed in national dailies, is the diversification of the state's ailing agriculture sector. The fact is that even as Punjab implements the crop diversification scheme, reaping a rich harvest from it will be much tougher than anticipated.

It is now more than eight months since the local administration announced a contract farming system to wean farmers off the wheat-rice cropping pattern and reduce their dependence on government procurement. The wheat-rice cycle may have filled India's granaries, but it has taken its toll on Punjab's soil and water resources.

One of the major contract farming programmes covers 16,600 hectares (ha) of land that was earlier under paddy. Basmati is now being cultivated on the tract. But isn't it as water-intensive as paddy? "Basmati is planted around July 10, by which time the monsoon arrives. This means there is no additional strain on the groundwater,' points out Jagjit Singh Hara, a Ludhiana-based farmer. The contract has been taken up by the Escorts Agri Machinery group, which will sell the product to three rice exporting companies.

In case the exporters fail to purchase the produce, the Punjab Agro Industries Corporation (paic)

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