Green fields, water in plenty, palatial houses, good looking and hard working people that’s the stock image of India’s most prosperous province Punjab. The shining example of agricultural success touted as the “Green Revolution”. However, the reality is less romantic than the image that has been projected for the last four decades. Climate change and environmental pollution have ganged up to challenge the wits and nerves of these hardy people and for the first time it seems odds are heavily stacked against them.
The latest findings show that Punjab is witnessing a slowdown in agricultural production. In comparison to 1980s when the growth rate was 5 percent the 1990s saw a decline where the growth was registered at 2.4 per cent, in the 21st century it has become a meagre 1.9 percent.
The decline is significant when you realise that the area under cultivation for two of the major crops –wheat and rice—has been steadily increasing every year. For example the paddy cultivation was done in 227 thousand hectares (th ha) in 1960 in 2006 it was being cultivated in 2642 th ha, while wheat was being cultivated in 1400 th ha in 1960 in 2006 it had grown to 3468 th ha. The use of high yield varieties (HYV) of rice and wheat has seen an upward trend too. In 1970 while 69 per cent of the wheat sown was HYV and 33 per cent of the paddy too was of the same genre by 2006 in both the cases the use of HYV had reached 100 per cent.
Excessive use of fertilizers, water and pesticides coupled with increased area under wheat and paddy cultivation created a sudden boom we now know as Green Revolution. However, the same factors have now become the cause for its decline. The HYVs have been using certain elements of the soil at the expense of other nutrients. This has led to severe deficiency of nutrients in the soil. Even while wheat and paddy cultivation area is up the varieties of these two crops have come down drastically. Prior to Green Revolution Punjab was producing 41 varieties of wheat but now it grows only a couple of varieties. As the area under wheat and paddy cultivation has increased it has brought down the cultivation of jowar, bajra, maize, sugarcane, groundnut, pulses, rapeseed, barley, mustard and sunflower. Lack of crop rotation and consistent use of HYV does not offer the soil any chance to regenerate itself. The loss of certain nutrients is compensated with the help of standard fertilizers and pesticides increasing toxicity in the soil and permanently perpetuating the nutrient deficiency.
Indiscriminate use of tube wells have led to a situation that today the land of five rivers has a demand of 4.38 mham (Million hectare metres) of water while the availability is at 3.13 mham making it a water scarcity zone. Out of 137 blocks in Punjab, 103 are over exploited, 5 blocks are critical and only 25 are in safe category.
Small land holdings are another problem, one million or 69 per cent of the land holding in the state are less than 4 hectares in size. Compared to all India figures this size may look healthy but the level of mechanization and resource intensive agriculture being practised for the last four decades makes the holding size uneconomic. It has led to a situation where on an average a farmer bears a debt of Rs. 41,000.
Caught between mounting costs of production and debts and declining per hectare productivity the farmers in Punjab are waking up to a chilling reality that green revolution is actually a red herring, a fleeting moment of prosperity leaving disaster in its wake.