Rice was never a crop of choice for Punjab farmers. It was introduced in the state sometimes in the 1970s (later part of the Green Revolution). The land was fertile, with almost 95% guaranteed irrigation. Farmers were forced to abandon their native crops of Maize, Bajra, Pulses & Oilseeds.
Rice is not native to this region, it’s predominantly a rain fed water intensive crop. Here lies the problem! Introducing rice to a region with insufficient rainfall meant most of the irrigation would be done using ground water. Since 1970s, the water table of Punjab has declined drastically. This slogan was coined way back in 2005 to make the farmers aware of the crisis.
“Chonne hetho rakba katao. Pani bachao, Punjab bachao”. Reduce area under rice. Save water, save Punjab.
Water crisis was made worse by the farmers using age old resource intensive methods of cultivation. Where other states have moved onto more resource and environment friendly methods, Punjab farmers.1. Prepare nursery and sprout seedlings
2. Wait for 15th June to turn the tube wells on. Idea is to make your fields look like a small lake! (few cheeky farmers start before 15th)
3. Get the tractor ready. As in, make sure the DJ Boom Box is working.
4. Put on the latest Punjabi songs at full volume and start ploughing like crazy! Go round and round around the field with a Suhaga (leveler) doing ‘Kaddu’
5. Frantically start looking for ‘Bhaiye’. Labor from UP. (This is the only time Bhayie are in demand like the new Rs2000 notes after demonetization).
6. Send your trusted men to nearest railway stations to poach and hijack labor.
7. Keep your labor happy. Murga by the day and Paua by the night.
8. Finally sow in puddled fields and keep them puddled for the next 110 days.
It is time for desperate measures. A comprehensive policy decision has to be taken and implemented. In the meantime, we must adopt new methods of cultivation and make new knowledge available to farmers. I am using SRI method of cultivation myself. It uses 1/4th the water and seeds per acre!
Punjab’s forced romance with rice continues. This is one marriage which should not last for long!