As the possibility of an extended lockdown impacting the smooth movement of labour looms, the Punjab government has decided to encourage the state’s farmers to shift en masse to maize and cotton, instead of paddy. Planting paddy is expected to start from June, depending on the progress of the southwest monsoon. Field preparation begins before that. With migratory labourers having expertise in planting rice returning to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar after the lockdown announcement last month, Punjab is urging its farmers to grow cotton or maize as the next crop for the kharif season. The state government has asked the Centre to further raise the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of maize and give incentives to set up maize-based industries so that farmers are encouraged to shift from growing paddy. The current MSP of maize for FY20 is Rs 1,760 per quintal while that of common grade paddy is Rs 1,815 a quintal. While paddy has assured state procurement, maize doesn’t factor, which makes it less attractive for growers. Punjab has been working on shifting farmers from paddy to maize and other alternative crops in the kharif season and, in 2019, it managed to shift almost 0.75 million hectares from paddy to alternative crops. But now the focus has acquired more importance over fears of non-availability of labour. “What seems to be worrying Punjab is not the harvesting of rabi, but our next crop, which is paddy. This operation of planting paddy is totally labour-intensive and Punjab doesn’t have the expertise or experienced labour to do it. So, instead of paddy we are asking to go for cotton or maize as it can be done with fewer number of labour,” Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal told Business Standard recently. chart In Punjab, paddy is planted in around 2.6 to 2.7 million hectares of land every year. But in 2019, the acreage dropped, as some farmers shifted from paddy to maize, cotton, high-value basmati rice and vegetables. The state planted maize in around 0.16 million hectares of land, while cotton was grown in around 0.97 million hectares, sources said.
The state plans to at least double the acreage under the two crops due to labour scarcity.