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Last Updated : Jul 22, 2019 03:24 PM IST | Source: Hindustan Times

Haryana farmers give up rice crop to conserve water

According to Haryana’s farm department, every hectare (2.4 acre) brought under maize cultivation from rice would save 14,000 litres of water needed for irrigation.

Hindustan Times @moneycontrolcom

A unique experiment in Haryana could well break a long-standing chokehold on the state’s seriously depleted water table: rampant paddy.

Fifteen thousand farmers in the state, who have traditionally grown only rice, will not be growing the water-intensive crop this summer, the first time in 30 years. They have signed up for a state government drive that rewards them with cash and freebies for ditching paddy for maize.

According to Haryana’s farm department, every hectare (2.4 acre) brought under maize cultivation from rice would save 14,000 litres of water needed for irrigation.

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"The total area under maize cultivation in districts chosen for the drive now stands at 50,000 hectares," said Suresh Gehlawat, additional director in the state agriculture department. The move is expected to save 700 million litres of water for the entire season.

In grain-bowl states of Punjab and Haryana, a practice of paddy-wheat cycle (paddy during summers, wheat during winters) has driven aquifers to a historic low.

"India currently holds surplus rice stocks and it was not easy convincing farmers to give up paddy," said Suresh.

The campaign worked because of a string of freebies and a state-backed guarantee that all the maize harvested by farmers, who signed up for the programme, would be bought by the state at federally fixed minimum support prices.

The share of Haryana’s districts that have depleted water reserves to "dangerous" levels has risen from 63 percent in 1995 to 89 percent in 2014, according to Ranjan Aneja, an economist with Central University of Haryana.

The state has seen an alarming fall in its groundwater levels. According to the Central Water Commission’s data, the average depth at which groundwater was available in 1975 was 9.19 metre. It dropped to 18.66 metre in 2016.

Despite a frightening water crisis, farmers prefer paddy, which requires 80 percent more water than, say, maize, because the power needed to draw water is virtually free for farmers. In the 1960s, such subsidies, along with better seeds, had spurred India’s green revolution, whose benefits are now wearing off.

Apart from the assurance to buy the harvest, each farmer who has switched to maize has got Rs 1,200 worth of good quality maize seeds free on a per acre basis, apart from Rs 2,000 in “production subsidy”, which is essentially a cash reward for not growing water-intensive rice crops.

"We tried explaining to farmers that while rice would fetch them Rs 1,750 per 100 kgs, they would get nearly as much for maize, whose minimum support price is Rs 1,700 per 100 kgs. Plus, the cost of cultivating maize is lower on an average by Rs 12,000," Gehlawat said.

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First Published on Jul 22, 2019 03:24 pm
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