No shortcuts to crop diversification

Pricing policies, market infrastructure and technologies that make cultivation of alternative crops viable are crucial

By A Amarender Reddy
Last Updated: Friday 12 July 2019
No shortcuts to crop diversification
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Rice is the principal food crop in Odisha occupying about 63 per cent of cultivated area in the kharif season. Since the 1990s, the state government is trying to diversify the area under kharif paddy to crops such as pulses and oilseeds under a Crop Diversification Programme (CDP) by providing incentives in cash and kind. 

Under CDP, the state government is engaged in promoting pulses, oilseeds and other commercial crops by alternative crop demonstrations, farm mechanisation and value addition. However, in spite of good efforts, crop diversification has decreased in the state in the past two decades, shows the state’s Economic Survey 2018.

The survey used an Index of Crop Diversification to examine major changes in cropping patterns. Higher the value, greater is the diversification. The index declined from 0.74 in 1994-95 to 0.34 in 2014-15. Policies like 24/7 free electricity to agriculture and free water supply through irrigation systems encouraged the area under paddy. This led to over-exploitation of groundwater. 

From the point view of farmers, the biggest advantage of paddy was high and stable yields with guaranteed procurement at Minimum Support Price (MSP). Pulses and oilseeds have good potential to replace paddy in high and medium land, but in spite of intensive promotion, why is the scheme is not able to drive large-scale crop diversification?

Costs and returns data shows that relative profitability of alternative crops, such as pulses and oilseeds, fluctuated widely between 2011-12 and 2015-16, due to unpredictable price policy over the years. Pulses, oilseeds and cotton did fetch higher prices in some years, they are more risky, both in terms of yields and prices. 

Moreover, higher market prices were not able to compensate low yields over a long period. Hence, to promote alternative crops to replace paddy in states like Odisha, Haryana and Punjab, the governments have to evolve long-term strategy to make the crops more profitable than paddy. The governments have to focus on technologies that favour alternative crops. 

Groundwater irrigation plays an important role in diversification as it facilitates controlled water release, which is one of the factors for growing crops like vegetables and cotton. Therefore, districts with greater dependence on groundwater have a higher potential for crop diversification.

It is also notable that in high rainfall areas, such as Odisha, there is a greater scope for not only increasing crop diversity but also cropping intensity by promoting water harvest structures (like village ponds or even farm ponds) to provide supplemental irrigation.

Studies, and even the NITI Aayog, have indicated that districts with better market infrastructure, like network of roads and storage, help in crop diversification. 

(The author is principal scientist at ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad)

(This article was first published in Down To Earth's print edition dated July 1-15, 2019)

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