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July 24, 2024
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Time to move from business as usual in Punjab agriculture | FAO in India | Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations



With a focus to enhance farmers income and ensure the ecological integrity of agriculture in Punjab, the State Government is formulating an agriculture policy, with a focus on 4 objectives:

  1. Reaching acceptable levels of livelihoods for farmers
  2. Preserving natural resources
  3. Tackling disguised unemployment and
  4. Improving delivery of services to farmers and rural communities

Talking of farmers distress, Suresh Kumar, Former Chief Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, Government of Punjab spoke of the imperative to address the root causes behind farmer suicides, especially the challenges faced by smallholder farmers. Shyam Khadka, FAO Representative in India, spoke regarding over-financing of crop loans and uses of loans in a significant proportion for consumption purposes leading to unsustainable indebtedness among farmers. Such practice would reduce the overall wellbeing of farm families.

Ajay Vir Jakhar, Chairman of the PSFC pointed to the inadequacy of extension services, which have contributed to farmer distress in the State. There is a need to build farmers capacity to innovate at the centre of the research-extension nexus.  Additionally, the transition from a conventional system of agriculture to a more farmer-centric model requires institutional innovations, said Ms. Anne-Sophie Poisot, Advisor, Sustainable Agriculture FAO. 

More than 80 percent of the cropped area in Punjab is under rice cultivation. Almost 20 million tonnes of rice straw gets generated which requires being managed in about 20 days between rice harvesting and before wheat sowing in Punjab. The growing problem of straw burning causing air pollution and leading to health hazards and depletion of soil fertility was a major point of discussion. Murli Dhar, Director, Sustainable Agriculture Program, WWF India said they are promoting the development of innovative technology transforming rice stubble for packaging purposes, to replace plastic. Incorporation of crop residues in the soil provides a useful option to improve soil health and yields. Since paddy straw management has a high cost, incentives mechanisms should be developed to reduce burning and promote more sustainable options that help restore carbon in the soil. 

Nanda Kumar, Former Secretary, Agriculture, Government of India highlighted the example of successful Indian farmers innovating through highly diversified production systems which include horticulture, fisheries and conservation of natural resources, providing higher economic and ecological resilience, high-quality production and better prices. He stressed the growing consumer demand for pesticide-free and healthy fresh food, and this could be a huge income opportunity for Punjab farmers. Finally, he concluded with the need for a comprehensive suite of policy measures, including promotion of crop diversification away from water-consuming rice and wheat; profound institutional reforms; improvement in delivery of flexible and demand-driven extension services working closely with farmers and universities; reviewing research priorities; and developing a “ Brand Punjab” around safe and quality agricultural products.

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