Half baked

smarting from last year's severe drought, the Union ministry of agriculture has asked state governments to encourage crop diversification. The pre-emptive measure seeks to factor in the effect of monsoon failure in the present kharif season. But in the absence of facilities for storage, preservation and processing of alternative crops, it may prove to be a non-starter.

The contingency plan for 2003 is based on four possibilities: delay in onset of monsoon, its timely arrival and sudden break, early withdrawal, and delayed departure or extended rains.

"The rice-wheat cycle has depleted water and nutrients in the soil,' says Panjab Singh, former director general, Indian Council of Agricultural Research. He is, however, sceptical about the implementation of the programme. "Contingency plans like these help but they have to be backed by convincing cropping systems,' opines Singh. The acting chairperson of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, T Haque, reveals: "While fixing the minimum support price, we try to encourage diversification by keeping higher rates for alternative crops. But there are other factors such as procurement and storage, which must also be considered if a significant increase in the yield of these crops is to be seen.'