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Why Punjab’s Agro Climatic Zones Need Better Understanding For Future Cropping

The debate around agri zones is not really new. In the past several attempts have been made to delineate major agro-ecological regions in respect to soils, climate, physiographic and natural vegetation for macro-level planning on a more scientific basis.

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While the contentious farm laws have been repealed, MSP continues to agitate the minds of farmers. MSP or Minimum Support Price, is the price that the government declares in advance, and pays at the time of procurement of crops from the farmers at the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), popular known as Mandis. The concept is derived from the fact that the farmers should not suffer losses on their produce owing to lesser rates in the open market. The demand by the agitating farmers is that the government should give legal status to MSP - the three farm laws did not mention this though - wherein even if a private trader purchases agriculture produce from the farmer, the produce should get rates on par with MSP, or above. Paying the farmer below the MSP, the agitators say, should attract legal punishment.

Amidst continued rising temperatures on MSP, the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) has come up with a new hypothesis: that there are six agro-climatic zones in Punjab which include the Sub-Mountain Undulating Region, Undulating Plain Region (UPR), Central Plain Region (CPR), Western Plain Region (WPR), Western Region (WR) and Flood Plain Region (FPR), and cropping plans and patterns in Punjab need to change from the current kharif-rabi /rice-wheat cycle to growing grains, fruits and vegetables best suited to the six zones. This, the University believes, will obviate the need for an MSP because past practices of square pegs in round holes have gone on for too long. The University further strengthens its hypothesis by stating that these regions have rainfall variations from 165 mm to 2000 mm annually, and have a climate that ranges from humid to cold-arid to arid and extreme arid. The variations in soil also oscillate from hill soils, tarai, brown hill, alluvial to desert.

Sub-Mountain Undulating Region (Zone 1), and Undulating Plain Region (UPR) – Zone 2 include districts like Pathnakot, Ropar, Mohali, Gurdaspur, and Hoshiarpur. The temperatures are cold, humid to sub-humid, and semi-arid to humid and the rainfall varies between 165 mm to over 1000 mm. The soil of these areas is suitable to grow vegetables, wheat, maize, basmati, sugarcane, jowar, bajra, barley etc. Growing paddy here is not suitable because it requires continuous standing water for days which makes maize practically a default crop for farmers.

Zone 3 districts include Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib, Patiala and Sangrur. Some parts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur are highly suitable for growing basmati whose aroma is unique and whose crop fetches top prices. But to try to force-cultivate basmati in the rest of Zone 3 is kind of sub-optimal, and avoidable, say the University dons. Basmati grown elsewhere does get the length but lacks the aroma for which basmati is famous. Wherever wise experimentation has been done, results speak for themselves. Pathar naakh (hard pear), for example, is grown in some parts of Amritsar and almost all of that crop is shipped to West Bengal where it is used in Durga Puja. It is a very lucrative crop. 

Doaba region’s Jalandhar, Kapurthala and part of Hoshiarpur, are best for growing seed potato because of the region’s deep sandy loam soils and also since the October-December period is relatively free of aphid attacks. In December, the leaves of the plants are cut and the tuber is allowed to  remain inside the earth, which further reduces the possibility of any virus infestation from outside. Kapurthala’s land is also suitable for groundnut and melon crops. Similarly, Jalandhar and some areas of Hoshiarpur district are ideal for sugarcane cultivation. Hoshiarpur is also very suitable for growing groundnut and sesame oilseeds.

Zone 4 covers Ferozepur, Moga, Barnala, and Faridkot districts. These geographies are most suitable for cotton growing and mustard. Zone 5 has Mukatsar, Fazilka, Bathinda and Mansa. In Zone 6, the parts of various districts along with Beas, Sutlej, Ravi and Ghaggar rivers are included which are often flood-prone. This is also referred to as the Bet area of the state.  This east-west cross section of the state has homogenous climatic conditions. But the almost perennial availability of water encourages farmers to grow paddy, which may not necessarily be such a good idea. 

The debate around agri zones is not really new. In the past several attempts have been made to delineate major agro-ecological regions in respect to soils, climate, physiographic and natural vegetation for macro-level planning on a more scientific basis.

  • Agro-climatic regions were first mooted by the erstwhile Planning Commission in the Seventh Plan. The main objective was to integrate plans of the agro-climatic regions with the state and national plans. Nothing much, unfortunately, was progressed. 
  • Agro-climatic zones under National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) were based on natural resources, major crops, farming systems, production constraints and socio-economic conditions prevalent in that zone. Stress was on technology generation. Very little was really achieved. 
  • Agro-ecological regions by the National Bureau of Soil Survey & Land Use Planning (NBSS & LUP) came up with twenty agro-ecological zones based on the growing period as an integrated criteria of effective rainfall, soil groups, delineated boundaries adjusted to district boundaries with a minimal number of regions. Subsequently, these twenty agro-ecological zones were sub- divided into 60 sub-zones.

So the thinking, and suggested solutions in Punjab are neither novel nor breakthrough. The problem lies perhaps elsewhere. The over usage of fertilisers and over exploitation of ground water for decades has ravaged the land. It did for a period of time enrich the Punjabi farmer, making him perhaps one of the most prosperous in India. But the gains from the Green Revolution are beginning to wane, and diminish, leaving Punjab at the cross-roads. 

Punjab - known as the ‘Granary of India’ - produces 20 per cent and nine per cent of India’s wheat and rice respectively. At the international level, this represents three per cent of the global production of these crops. The state is responsible for two per cent of the world’s cotton and wheat production and one per cent of the world’s rice production. The Green Revolution, through high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds, tractors, irrigation facilities, pesticides and fertilizers created a miracle. Today that miracle needs once again the intervention of a ‘Hand of God’. And climatic agri-zones may be too simplistic, and too tame, a solution for the future. 

Dr. Sandeep Goyal is Managing Director of Rediffusion. He also serves the Punjab Govt. as CEO of the Punjab CSR Authority, in the rank of Principal Secretary. Views expressed are personal. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr Sandeep Goyal

The author was Founder Chairman of Dentsu India. He has authored Konjo – The Fighting Spirit and Japan Made Easy, both Harper Collins publications, on his 25 years of working with Japan.

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