The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panel tips to cut food import costs

Chandigarh, Nov. 3: A committee on agriculture has recommended to the Punjab government to replace the wheat-rice rotation with crops needing less water. The report of the committee, headed by farm economist S.S. Johal, has been presented to chief minister Amarinder Singh.

“There is need to change the cropping pattern in the state. The water level is depleting with the passage of each day and the wheat-rice rotation is no longer feasible,” Johal said.

He said the cropping pattern of one million hectares of land should be changed and the farmers compensated. “The target of shifting of one million hectares of land from under rice-wheat rotation to other crops can be achieved at a cost of Rs 1,280 crore only by providing compensation to farmers under a crop adjustment programme which is consistent with WTO provisions,” the economist said. According to him, one million hectares of land produces 8.04 million tonnes of foodgrains annually.

The report contains nearly 100 recommendations.

He said there was surplus production of foodgrain at the moment. “The government has no choice but to buy them at the recommended minimum support price. It would be advantageous for the government not to produce eight million tonnes of grains till the stocks get reduced to manageable levels of 20 to 25 million tonnes.”

He said that even if one million hectares were partially used to cultivate oilseeds and pulses, it would dramatically lower the country’s import bill that had soared to over Rs 10,000 crore.

Johal said farmers should be compensated for the change in the crop pattern. “The farmer must be told that he would be looked after if he changes his cropping pattern,” he added.

“With compensation guaranteed and a research programme put in place, crops like maize, pulses and oilseeds will yield matching income for farmers and it will become economical for them to shift to the cultivation of these crops,” Johal said.

The report lays stress on diversification of crops and lays emphasis on reduction of cost of production, improving productivity and profitability of alternative crops as well as assuring the market clearance for the new crops.

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