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Punjab govt may buy maize from two districts in 2018, says Manpreet Badal

Chandigarh, September 15: The Punjab government was considering procurement of maize on minimum support price (MSP) pattern in two districts of the state in 2018 to start the process of diversification from the standard crop cycle of wheat and paddy, State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal said Thursday.

Addressing a national seminar on ‘Agribusiness Potential of Punjab State’ at the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Manpreet said the pilot project would be initiated in Hoshiarpur and Ropar. “The state government is determined to look at diversifying agriculture in Punjab. We are in talks with the Centre to see if, somehow, paddy production could be tapered off. There could be some sunset clause in growing of paddy. And for that, we need to switch to maize,” he said.

Manpreet said that with the ground water levels going down rapidly in Punjab, it was being forecast that the state would run dry in nine years if the state did not move away from paddy. Citing more examples of diversification, he said the state government was also in talks with the Centre to produce ethanol from maize or from biomass. “There is 15 lakh tonnes of biomass available annually. If the Centre could allow blending of ethanol into petroleum products, we will be one of the leading producers of ethanol. Also, if Punjab is allowed to trade with Pakistan and Central Asia, potato could also be one of the other main crops for diversification,” he said.

Commenting on the present agriculture scenario in the state, Manpreet said in the past 70 years, the economy of Punjab has been turned into a cereal growing economy. “This was simply because India was short of foodgrains and food security was as important as national security. But in the process, Punjab suffered. If you look at all the high per capita income states of India, Punjab stands out like a sore thumb because we do not have an industrial base. Now the government of Punjab has decided that we need to remodel and the green revolution must move eastwards,” he said.
The minister added that the real food bowl of India now was not Punjab and Haryana but states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.

He said if this realisation dawned, Punjab could become the leading producer of milk, vegetables, fruits etc. “The food policy of India is based on wheat and rice. This must be changed to nutrition policy. Punjab can fill into those shoes provided the centre could just tweak its policies by giving us necessary infrastructure, cold chains, storage facilities etc,” he said.

Manpreet listed agribiotics as one area where there could be investment in the state along with pest resistant seeds, packaging units, green houses, agro cargo handling facilities etc. “Over the years, there is an acute sense of shame that somehow Punjab has been left behind in success story of India. There is no reason why Punjab could not have succeeded because we had such a big headstart over rest of India. Punjab degraded its institutions,” he said.

Among others who addressed the seminar were Vijay Paul Sharma, chairperson, Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, S S Johl, Chancellor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, and Deepak Kumar, chief general manager, NABARD, Punjab.

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