A Tribute to Punjab peasantry: A question often comes to the mind and is even discussed at various levels as to how the Punjab farmer has been able to adjust himself and deliver the goods in the current agricultural scenario prevailing in the Punjab. In order to find a satisfactory answer, one will have to have, at first, a quick look at the problems facing Punjab agriculture. It is a known fact that many of these problems had surfaced much earlier and continue to persist even today.
In view of the rapidly falling water table in the State, the groundwater resources are seriously threatened. The exploitation of limited remaining surface irrigation is posing technical and organizational problems. Rapidly rising unit cost of production is no doubt quite worrisome. Diversification of agriculture is moving at a slow pace. Even an illiterate farmer knows that cheaper sources of development have been nearly exhausted and the road ahead is much more bumpy and harder than has been travelled so far. The net area sown in the State will almost stay constant. It is also a matter of concern that weeds, pests and disease problems arising from dominant wheat-paddy rotation seem to be posing a threat to soil health. Less costly sources of irrigation are almost exhausted. Incremental fertilizer application has generated low marginal productivity and the rigours of the law of diminishing returns have started coming into play. This is apparent from the fact that cost of production at current prices of major crops continues to rise year after year and the margin of profitability, which is considered as the main spur to growth, is getting eroded. Almost all the area under wheat cultivation is saturated with high yielding varieties, fertilizer use is close to the optimum and plateau in production has almost reached. In a nutshell, the main engine for generating growth is fast approaching its peak capacity.
With such a picture of our agriculture visible almost everywhere in the State, one sees a silver lining in the Punjab peasantry which has not lost the grit; it moves on and does the job in spite of all the problems mentioned above. With its unusual courage, patience and progressive outlook, the Punjab peasantry has impressed several scholars and researchers, Indian and foreign, who have showered unstinting praise on it, from time to time. In his write-up The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt, Darling Malcom observes that grit, skill in farming, and a fine physique are characteristics common to all, and in his new environment the Jat Sikh has reached a point of development probably beyond anything else of the kind in India. About the enterprising nature of the Jat peasantry, he further says that it would be difficult in any country to find a more remarkable combination of cultivator, colonist, emigrant and soldier. On similar lines, Sir Densil Ibbetson said, “The Sikh Jats in the Punjab are proverbially the finest peasantry in India”. Prof Gilbert Etinne of the Geneva Development Institute who made a study of the two Punjabs to understand the phenomenon of the rapid progress made by Indian Punjab found much weight in Ibbetson’s view.
Last year, under the patronage of Punjab Agricultural University, I had an extraordinary opportunity to write biography of Dr Avtar Singh Kahlon, an eminent agricultural economist who had served earlier as Head of the Department of Economics and sociology and later as Dean in the PAU. Dr Kahlon says that Punjab farmers are even better than American farmers: “Punjab farmers even excelled the American farmers whose quick adoption of Corn technology came to be known as the Corn Revolution, This is perhaps the reason why the area coming under new technology in a time scale of 4-5 years in Punjab came to be known as the Green Revolution”, I have been a great fan of the French farmer and admire him sans reservation. In France one grows mainly wheat and vine. The land holding of French farmer is not very big but he cultivates it par excellence. He is looked upon as a model in Europe by all those engaged in farming. The attitude of the French government towards the small farmer seems to be quite sympathetic and it comes to his rescue in a big way during distress. Of late I have begun to feel that Punjab farmer has left even his French counterpart behind by following the recent advances in farm practices and by adopting the latest technologies developed and made available to him by the scientists and extension specialists of Punjab Agricultural University. To be more precise, it is the combination of enterprising spirit of Punjab farmers and the continuous extension services of PAU which has made the Punjab peasantry unique and without a parallel in India or perhaps in the world.
Author of this article Harpreet Kaur Bains is a Teacher, Department of Journalism, PAU Ludhiana.