The paddy variety Punjab cannot get rid of

Punjab is finding it difficult to keep farmers away from what scientists call "anti-environment, water-guzzling, long-duration paddy", though the Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, has developed a number of environment-friendlier varieties.

In a state where the groundwater table is fast getting depleted, farmers still prefer PUSA 44, a variety the government strongly discourages though it has not banned it. Ahead of the paddy season this year, a number of camps were organised to encourage farmers to choose other varieties. Yet is is PUSA 44 that has been sown on around 30 to 40 per cent of the area under paddy cultivation in Punjab. In Patiala, Sangrur and Barnala districts, more than 70 per cent of the area is under PUSA 44, says agriculture development officer (enforcement wing), Patiala, Dr A S Mann.

Eight or nine varieties of rice have been sown in Punjab this year on 27 lakh hectares, a coverage almost as wide as the 27.50 lakh hectares of last year. This has been despite the fact that the state has set itself a target of decreasing the area under rice by 10 lakh hectares. Experts feel this can be achieved only by sowing a short-duration variety.

PAU provided seeds of two newly developed varieties -- PR 121 and PR 122 with an average yield of 76 and 79 quintals respectively per hectare. The output of P-122 is almost as high as that of PUSA 44; besides, it takes less time and is also disease-resistant. It failed to keep the majority of the state's farmers away from PUSA 44, which requires at least three weeks more to mature than the recommended varieties do. PUSA means more water, more insecticide and more pesticide.

"The PAU-recommended varieties save water as these mature in 130 to 140 days, almost 25 days faster than PUSA 44, which is also prone to bacterial leaf blight disease. Yet the demand for PUSA 44 is huge," says Dr Gurdyal Singh, joint director, Food Security Mission, Punjab.

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