"Subsidies have to be withdrawn"
AGRICULTURAL scientists and economists warn farm subsidies are leading to the wasteful use of resources such as land and water. Highlighting the grave consequences of electricity and fertiliser subsidies, they suggest any decision on public funding for agriculture should be based on an environmental cost-benefit analysis for sustainable use of natural resources.
Subsidy related mismanagement of resources has been highlighted in a report on agricultural policy and sustainability by R P S Malik of the Agroeconomic Research Centre at Delhi University. Malik analysed farming practices in Punjab's Ludhiana district and concluded, "The subsidies have to be withdrawn for sustainable resource management."
Malik says the subsidy on electricity has resulted in the indiscriminate use of tubewells -- more than 96 per cent of the district is irrigated by tubewells. Easy access to water has changed the cropping pattern in Ludhiana district into one favouring wheat and the water-guzzling paddy, ignoring maize and cotton. Farmers also use about 15 per cent more water than required for the paddy. All these activities cause the water table to drop by about 0.8 metres every year. And, the use of excess water has not only resulted in lower paddy yield, it has also caused weeds to proliferate.
The changes in the cropping pattern and the increased irrigation have resulted in fertiliser consumption soaring from an average of 80 kg per ha in 1975-76 to 227 kg per ha in 1988-89. The overuse of fertilisers is leading to a decline in soil fertility.
Says V M Rao, former professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Change and a member in the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices in the Union agriculture ministry, "If scarce inputs are made available at low levels, farmers tend to exploit them."
Malik's study suggests maize-wheat rotation with farmyard manure is more economical and sustainable than paddy-wheat rotation with synthetic fertilisers.