Shimla: Himachal Pradesh’s farmers have been traditionally credited with turning the state’s rugged mountain valleys into India’s best farming hubs, and with bringing in the apple revolution and high-yield cash crops.
But the success story has now rapidly gone downhill as the share of agriculture in Himachal Pradesh’s economy has dropped to just 8 per cent in 2017-18, compared to 26.5 per cent in 1990-91. Large tracts of fertile land have been abandoned by farmers in the state for being uneconomical.
“The contribution of agriculture and allied sectors in total State Domestic Product has declined from 57.9 per cent in 1950-51 to 55.5 per cent in 1967-68, 26.5 per cent in 1990-91 and to 8.8 per cent in 2017-18,” said Himachal Pradesh’s latest economic survey report, tabled in the state legislative assembly.
In comparison, other sectors like transport and services have seen a significant growth graph.
Factors behind the shift
It’s a reflection on farmers shifting to alternate means of livelihood and also migrating to urban towns. The younger generations are particularly uninterested in taking up agriculture-related activities, and are on the look-out for government jobs or contractual salaries.
“The food grain crop has almost lost its relevance and become non-viable in lower hills like Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Una and Kangra. Wild boars, nilgai and monkeys are invading the fields and destroying crops. And finally, there is the climate change issue — long dry spells and excess rains when not needed by farmers,” said Dr Tej Pratap, vice-chancellor of the Dr G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Uttrakhand.
Onkar Sharma, principal secretary in the state’s agriculture department, said the share of agriculture in the State Domestic Product may go down further in coming years.
“We did make some interventions through schemes like JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) for crop diversifications, and increasing productivity. There are subsidy schemes like solar fencing against wild animals, micro-irrigation, crop insurance, and subsidy on buying farm implements,” Sharma said.
“The fact remains that farmers are abandoning cultivations. The damage caused to them by wild animals is huge. They can’t protect crops day and night.”
Diversification of farm land
Land use changes are happening quite fast in the villages. One factor behind this is possibly the expansion of the road network, which has led to the diversification of farm land toward building home-stays, guesthouses, shops and small business ventures by the villagers.
Villagers at Shoghi, close to Shimla, have even rented their uncultivated fields to an automobile dealer to convert it into a ‘parking yard’. The farmers get Rs 100 per vehicle every month as rent.
“If we have 100 vehicles parked on our agricultural land, we get Rs 10,000 per month. We are happy to get something out of nothing,” says Meena Kumari of village Jalel.
“I have given up farming on almost 40 bighas (about 10 acres) of family land because it has become impossible to save anything from wild animals,” says Rattan Lal, another farmer at village Manwi.
“Ten to 15 years back, I used to grow excellent maize crop. Now, the yield was zero. I have stopped cultivations. There is so much cost of input, and there is nothing left to carry home.”