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Agricultural Transformation in West Bengal

Context:

West Bengal has been undergoing a notable transformation in its agricultural sector, especially in districts bordering Bangladesh. Farmers in these regions are increasingly diversifying away from traditional wheat cultivation. Instead, they are embracing alternative crops such as bananas, lentils, maize, and other varieties. This shift towards crop diversification not only reflects changing agricultural practices but also signifies efforts to enhance productivity, sustainability, and adaptability in response to evolving market demands and climatic conditions.

Relevance:

GS III: Agriculture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Reasons Behind the Shift from Wheat Production
  2. Why India Needs to Focus on Crop Diversification
  3. Benefits of Crop Diversification
  4. Concerns and Challenges
  5. Conclusion

Reasons Behind the Shift from Wheat Production:

Wheat Blast Disease Outbreak:

  • The emergence of the wheat blast disease in Bangladesh in 2016 prompted a two-year ban on wheat cultivation in border areas of West Bengal, including Murshidabad and Nadia districts.
  • The disease is caused by the fungal infection Magnaporthe oryzae Triticum (MoT), which affects wheat crops by causing dark lesions on wheat spikes, leaves, and stems, leading to significant yield losses.

Economic Advantages of Alternative Crops:

  • Farmers have found economic benefits in cultivating alternative crops like bananas. The profitability of banana cultivation during peak seasons has outweighed the benefits of growing wheat, especially considering stagnant wheat prices.

Concerns over Water Consumption:

  • Wheat cultivation is water-intensive. With increasing concerns over water scarcity and efficient water management, farmers are opting for crops that require less water.

Shift to Maize Cultivation:

  • Maize cultivation has witnessed a substantial increase in the region, with production rising eightfold from 2011 to 2023.
  • Although maize prices might be lower per quintal compared to wheat, the higher per-hectare output and the demand from poultry and food processing industries have made maize a more lucrative alternative.

Increase in Pulses and Oilseeds Production:

  • Alongside maize, there has been a notable surge in the production of pulses and oilseeds in the area.
  • Diversifying crops not only offers economic benefits but also helps in soil health and nutrient management.

Why India Needs to Focus on Crop Diversification:

  • Crop Diversification refers to cultivating a variety of crops on a farm instead of concentrating on a single crop.
  • The Green Revolution in India, marked by the introduction of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, significantly boosted food production, addressing hunger and malnutrition challenges.
  • However, this emphasis on monoculture led to reduced crop diversity, resulting in the decline of traditional, region-specific crop varieties and a consequent loss of genetic diversity.
  • India has witnessed a decline of over 100,000 traditional rice varieties since the onset of the Green Revolution in the 1970s.

Benefits of Crop Diversification:

Mitigating Drought Risks:

  • In drought-prone regions, cultivating a mix of drought-tolerant crops (e.g., millets, sorghum) alongside water-intensive crops (e.g., rice, vegetables) ensures some level of harvest even under water scarcity.

Soil Health and Nutrient Management:

  • Planting leguminous crops like soybeans or peanuts can enrich the soil with nitrogen, benefiting subsequent crops such as maize or wheat.

Market Opportunities:

  • Crop diversification can help farmers tap into niche markets or emerging trends, like the rising demand for organic produce, which often fetches higher prices than conventionally grown crops.

Pest and Disease Management:

  • Intercropping or mixed cropping practices can deter pests naturally. For example, planting marigold alongside vegetable crops can reduce the reliance on chemical pesticides.

Biofuel Production:

  • Crops like Jatropha and Pongamia can be harnessed for biofuel production, offering additional income avenues for farmers and contributing to India’s energy needs.

Concerns and Challenges:

Market Dynamics:

  • Farmers are reluctant to shift from traditional crops like rice and wheat due to fluctuating prices of alternative crops and limited market demand.

Financial Constraints:

  • Crop diversification demands additional investments in seeds, equipment, and knowledge, which smallholder farmers, constituting a significant portion of India’s agriculture sector, might find challenging.

Infrastructure Limitations:

  • Diversified and perishable crops often require specialized storage and transportation facilities, which are lacking in many rural areas, leading to post-harvest losses.

Disruption of Established Markets:

  • In regions where rice and wheat dominate consumption patterns, introducing crop diversification could potentially disrupt established market dynamics.

Conclusion:

While crop diversification offers numerous benefits, including improved resilience, soil health, and market opportunities, addressing the associated challenges is crucial. Ensuring financial support, enhancing infrastructure, and fostering awareness about the long-term benefits of diversification can encourage farmers to adopt diversified cropping systems, promoting sustainable and resilient agriculture in India.

-Source: The Hindu


June 2024
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