Diversifying crops: Why schemes fail

The growing water crisis in India has been particularly prominent in states with a predominantly agricultural economy since agriculture is the largest consumptive user of water. The trend of groundwater exploitation, which was popularized to tackle the issue of food security for the country after Independence (Green Revolution: mid-1960s to mid-70s), has continued uninterrupted since then. Agriculture, and more specifically the rice-wheat cropping pattern, has long known to be the major cause for the impending water crisis in the north-western states. It has been found that on average, the production of one kilogram of rice requires 1,432 litres of water in an irrigated low-land production system. In this context, the Centre and state governments have been determined to reduce the area under rice cultivation in some major states and shifting it to cultivate less water-intensive crops.

Crop diversification refers to a shift from the regional dominance of one crop to regional production of a number of crops. It aims to promote technological innovations in agricultural production so that farmers can benefit from choosing alternate crops and gain from improvement in crop productivity. Alternating cultivation of different crops on a given parcel of land is also a way of ensuring better soil health.

A Committee of Secretaries was appointed to assess the situation in nine major states – Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The CoS recommended an urgent need for diversification of the crop basket on account of stagnancy in production per hectare of rice and wheat, as well as the over-exploitation of groundwater.

Owing to these policy prescriptions, a sub-scheme under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (2011) known as ‘Crop Diversification in the Original Green Revolution States’ was implemented. Under this particular scheme, assistance and/or monetary incentives were provided for activities such as cluster demonstrations, farm mechanization, processing, value addition and awareness training.

An evaluation study on this scheme conducted by the Government of Haryana reveals poor performance in most activities proposed, either due to logistical issues such as the requirement of online registration by farmers or due to lack of technical skills in officers conducting demonstrations.

Furthermore, even during the years from 2011-12 to 2015-16, the area under rice and wheat cultivation has been rising in Haryana. Similarly, the crop diversification scheme had been implemented in Punjab in 2013-14, but with little success. Data shows that the area under maize actually declined between 2014-15 and 2016-17.

More recently, the Haryana government launched the ‘Jal hi Jivan hai’ scheme in June 2019. The scheme entails replacement of paddy by maize and other crops in seven over-exploited blocks (as per the latest assessment done by the Central Ground Water Board), with a target to diversify around 50,000 hectares from this season.

The total area under paddy cultivation in these seven blocks is around 1.95 lakh hectares, of which the area under non-Basmati rice is 87,900 hectares. Out of this, the scheme targets to diversify rice cultivation on about 50,000 hectares. The reason for targeting non-Basmati varieties of paddy is that these require watering around 40 times a season, while maize can do with just five-six rounds of irrigation. 

The incentives offered to farmers for diversifying include: (i) Rs 2,000 per acre for the farmer; (ii) high quality and high-yield hybrid seed free of cost; (iii) insurance for maize crop under Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana, and (iv) assurance of output purchase at the minimum support price (MSP). By simple calculation, we find that the net returns per hectare for maize cultivation are on average lower by Rs 54,250 as compared to paddy.

While the per hectare cost of cultivating paddy is close to Rs 26,000, the same for maize cultivation is only Rs 11,000. On the other hand, the average yield of paddy is 7.5 tonnes per hectare and at an MSP of Rs 17,500 per tonne gives a return of Rs 1,31,250. In the case of maize, the gross returns per hectare are Rs 62,000, given an average yield of four tonnes per hectare and MSP of Rs 15,500 per tonne. Therefore, the net return to a farmer favours cultivation of paddy over maize.

Given that the economic rationale does not work out and the fact that paddy is a major food crop as opposed to maize, despite the incentives offered, the fate of Jal hi Jivan hai scheme in ensuring crop diversification in Haryana will be similar to that of previous such schemes. Therefore, the subsidy for crop diversification needs to be reworked in accordance with the net returns that accrue to a farmer from paddy production vis-à-vis the alternative crop choices that the government intends farmers to adopt.

(The writer is Associate Fellow, India Development Foundation)

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