In view of the depleting water table in north India, the government would like farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh (UP) to switch 5-10 per cent of the total area of paddy cultivation to other crops such as maize, pulses, horticulture and agro-forestry.
The National Mission on Crop Diversification, launched in the 2013-14 Budget, aims at encouraging farmers in the traditional paddy growing areas of north India to shift to alternative and lucrative crops. The mission was launched with an initial allocation of Rs 500 crore.
"The water table in north India is dropping because of excessive use and paddy, being a water-intensive crop, is the main culprit," said a senior official with the agriculture ministry. "Also, the use of fertilisers and other chemicals has gone up sharply in the hitherto green revolution areas, which has compelled the government to plan for this switch."
The ministry has invited inputs from Punjab, Haryana and UP on how to help farmers shift from paddy to other crops without affecting their income. Paddy is one of the most sought after crops in north India because of its assured returns. In 2011-12, the area under paddy in the three states was 10.01 million tonnes, which is about 23 per cent of India's total paddy cultivation area. Production from these states was almost 27 per cent of the country's rice production.
"To start with, we might provide some special incentives to those growers who switch to crops such as maize and pulses from paddy and might even consider free seeds of such alternative crops," said the official. "We have already started the 'Bringing Green Revolution To Eastern India' programme, through which we plan to raise rice production in the eastern states of Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Odisha."
According to him, while it is necessary to encourage farmers to shift their cropping pattern, it is also important to provide proper avenues to market their products. "The mission will work towards all that," the official added.
The idea is to gradually reduce the dependence of the government's main procurement agencies on the three regions for foodgrains, mainly rice, he said. However, as the procurement mechanism in these states is not developed, a major portion of the procurement will initially have to be north India, the official added.
Paddy is the largest foodgrain produced in the country. In the 2012-13 crop marketing year that ends in June, India is expected to produce 102 million tonnes, marginally less than 105 million tonnes in 2011-12.