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Problems of Punjab’s Monoculture

  • 17 Dec 2020
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Amidst the ongoing farmer’s protests, questions are being raised on the sustainability of paddy-wheat cultivation, especially in Punjab.

Key Points

  • Monoculture in Punjab:
    • Monoculture is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop, plant, or livestock species, variety, or breed in a field or farming system at a time.
    • Wheat and paddy constitute about 84.6% of the total area planted to all crops compromising on pulses, maize, bajra and oilseeds cotton.
  • Problem of Monoculture:
    • Growing the same crops year after year on the same land increases vulnerability to pest and disease attacks. The more the crop and genetic diversity, the more difficult it is for insects and pathogens to devise a way to pierce through plant resistance.
    • Wheat and paddy cannot also, unlike pulses and legumes, fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. Their continuous cultivation without any crop rotation, then, leads to depletion of soil nutrients and growing dependence on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Wheat vs Paddy:
    • Wheat:
      • It is naturally adapted to Punjab’s soil and agro climatic conditions.
        • It is a cool season crop that can be grown only in regions particularly north of the Vindhyas where day temperatures are within the early-thirty degrees Celsius range right through March.
      • Its cultivation is desirable for national food security.
        • The state’s wheat yields at 5 tonnes-plus per hectare, as against the national average of 3.4-3.5 tonnes.
    • Paddy:
      • It requires a huge amount of water.
        • Farmers usually irrigate wheat five times. In paddy, 30 irrigations or more are given.
        • Punjab’s groundwater table has been declining by 0.5 meters per annum on an average due to paddy and the state’s policy of supplying free power for irrigation. It has encouraged farmers to grow long-duration water-guzzling varieties like Pusa-44.
      • Pusa-44 has high yield but a long duration growth period.
        • Long duration means transplanting by mid-May (Peak Summer), to enable harvesting from October and timely planting of the next wheat crop. But being peak summer time, it also translated into very high water requirements.
      • Paddy, being a warm season crop is not very sensitive to high temperature stress thus can be grown in much of eastern, central and southern India, where water is sufficiently available.
  • Government Initiatives:
    • Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Water Act, 2009 barred any nursery-sowing and transplanting of paddy before May 15 and June 15, respectively.
      • The Act was passed for the conservation of the groundwater.
      • Problem with the Act:
        • If transplanting of paddy was permitted only after the monsoon rains arrived in mid-June, it also pushed harvesting to October-end, leaving a narrow time window for sowing wheat before the November 15 deadline.
        • Farmers, then, had no option other than burning the paddy stubble left behind. Simply put, groundwater conservation in Punjab ended up causing air pollution in Delhi.

Way Forward

  • Reducing acreage area for wheat and promoting cultivation of alternate crops like coarse grains in Punjab will lead to crop diversification in the region bringing in better soil resilience and added nutritional benefits to the locals.
  • Shifting Paddy cultivation to eastern and southern states, planting of only shorter-duration varieties of paddy crop which mature early without any effect on production, metering of electricity and direct seeding of paddy further address the issue of monoculture and depleting groundwater.


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