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Business News/ Industry / Agriculture/  Does MSP help in crop diversification? Farmers will shift from paddy, wheat only when...: Agri expert weighs in
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Does MSP help in crop diversification? Farmers will shift from paddy, wheat only when...: Agri expert weighs in

“Paddy is a cash crop for farmers because 90 per cent is procured by the state...if you want them to shift then give them the right kind of price,” an agriculture expert said on Wednesday.

Farmer leader and National spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Rakesh Tikait during a BKU protest in Meerut, on Wednesday. (PTI)Premium
Farmer leader and National spokesperson of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Rakesh Tikait during a BKU protest in Meerut, on Wednesday. (PTI)

Farmers' demand for a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) on all 23 crops sparked debate around crop diversification and its benefits. SKM (Non-Political) leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal said the Centre's proposal of buying five crops at MSP will only be meant for those who go for crop diversification.

'Shifting focus from legal framework to crop diversification'

Farmers demanded a legal guarantee of MSP for all 23 crops and not just for pulses, maize, and cotton, as proposed by the government. According to Down to Earth, farmers and experts believe that the Centre's proposal is a "diversion of focus from a legal framework for MSP to a couple of crops and to the subject of crop diversification".

ALSO READ: Farmers protest: From mobile internet ban to traffic advisory for Delhi, Noida, Guargaon; Here are top 10 points

MSP is currently provided on paddy, jowar, bajra, maize, ragi, tur (arhar), moong, urad, cotton, groundnut, sunflower seed, soyabean, sesamum, nigerseed, wheat, barley, gram, masur (lentil), rapeseed & mustard, safflower, toria, copra and de-husked coconut.

While sharing the Centre's proposal on Monday, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal said during the fourth round of talks, farmers had pointed out that they want to diversify into maize crops but want to avoid suffering losses when the prices drop below the MSP.

ALSO READ: Farmers set to resume protest; agri minister Munda urges peace

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann reportedly said farmers of the state can adopt cotton and maize only if they get a guarantee for MSP on these crops. He even stressed that the assured marketing of these crops can encourage the farmers to opt for crop diversification.

However, farmer leaders believed that only those who switch to other crops from paddy will receive MSP under the government's new plan. "It meant that MSP would be given to only those who switch over from paddy to pulses. It will not be given to those growing 'moong' crops besides paddy," Dallewal was quoted by PTI saying. He asserted that farmers were demanding MSP on all 23 crops.

ALSO READ: Farmers protest 2.0: From demands to leadership, ‘Delhi Chalo’ march is vastly different this time. 10 things to know

How can MSP help in crop diversification?

According to reports, crop diversification seems to be one of the benefits of legalising MSP for all the 23 crops. Guaranteeing MSP for all crops may encourage farmers to grow crops other than paddy and wheat, the Deccan Herald reported. It is widely said that farmers are inclined to opt for these two crops mainly because of the MSP support and risk for other crops.

But MSP on all crops is not enough for crop diversification...

Let's first understand why farmers opt for paddy cultivation

Agriculture experts say that paddy was not a crop of Punjab. Farmers didn't grow paddy until they were asked to cultivate it to ensure food security. They were given prices to grow this crop. Now, the production of both wheat and paddy increased and food security is no longer an issue. However, it would now be difficult for farmers to suddenly switch to a new crop.

ALSO READ: Delhi Chalo march: Govt invites farmer leaders for fifth round of discussion on MSP

Devinder Sharma, an expert in agricultural policy, noted that many farmers in the past had chosen to grow alternative crops but they came back to paddy because the net return on other crops is less than the net return they get from paddy. He said the net returns on paddy will remain higher even if the government brings MSP on other crops.

If the government wants crop diversification…

The expert said if the government wants crop diversification, it should give good returns to farmers. In case the government seeks to promote millets and wants farmers to grow them, "then they must give farmers the right package and then they might shift to the millets," Sharma said.

He said reducing MSP on paddy and increasing that for other crops is not a solution. He added that farmers will shift to another crop only when they will be given economically viable alternatives.

"Paddy is a cash crop for farmers because 90 per cent is procured by the state...if you want them to shift then give them the right kind of price," he said.

"Today 14 per cent of farmers are given MSP," said the agriculture expert while citing the data shared in Parliament. "This way, 86 per cent of farmers are given less price, they are dependent on markets. Those who are dependent on markets are given 25-30 per cent less price for their crops...farmers are being given the desired amount and that's why they are protesting," Devinder Sharma said.

He pointed out that the farmers are not demanding that the government should buy everything. "They want to make sure that no one buys their crops for an amount below this (MSP) benchmark," he added.

How crop diversification can help environment?

1. Air pollution

The burning of the remains of paddy crops or stubble burning is one of the major reasons for severe air pollution in Delhi NCR during the winter season. Environmentalists have often batted for crop diversification to reduce the farmers' dependence on paddy cultivation.

In January, Special Chief Secretary (Development) KAP Sinha said the Punjab government is mulling the launch of the crop residue management campaign in advance this year to more effectively contain farm fire incidents, besides encouraging growers to adopt crop diversification.

2. Groundwater depletion

Vivek Chattopadhyay, the principal programme manager with Centre for Science Environment's Clean Air team, had earlier told Mint that paddy is grown where ample water is required. He had said, "Punjab and Haryana don't have much water...But because of the MSP...farmers have shifted to paddy and they are using groundwater heavily."

"Therefore, the government must look at policies and crop diversifications," he said while emphasising the need to shift to "low-water intensive crops".

Meanwhile, Minister Piyush Goyal said on Monday that the government's proposal, if adopted, "will save Punjab's farming, improve the groundwater table, and save the land from getting barren which is already under stress."

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Published: 21 Feb 2024, 06:10 PM IST
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