18th December 2009
Shajarana village, located some 15 km from Fazilka, is slowly discovering the benefits of aquaculture.
Badly affected by soil salinity and waterlogging, agriculture here means a single crop in a year and that too only in soil having low salt deposits.
This isn't typical to this village alone. Estimates show that India has about 7 million hectares of saline affected soils in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North Western India covering the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, and Punjab.
With even farmers with huge holdings — at times a single farmer in Punjab alone owns 70 acres of land — having to do odd jobs for survival, Punjab Farmers' Commission had to think of an alternate venture. It decided to foray into aquaculture and roped in Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU), Ludhiana, for the same.
Vice-Chancellor, GADVASU, Dr V K Taneja says, "We are providing the technical knowhow to the farmers. We are currently in the trial stage, commercial experiments will start soon."
To begin with, the university has helped build four ponds of one acre each. "The experiment began more on the lines of water management, for here we had areas where agriculture was not possible. The salt deposit in some areas was so high that the soil had turned white," adds Dr Taneja.
Dr Asha Dhawan, who heads the project titled Utilisation of Inland Saline Waters of South Western Punjab for Aquaculture, says, "The project began last year and our first hurdle was that the seeds of fishes that breed in saline water are hard to come by. Here, seeds for only carps are found."
The first step, therefore, was to reduce the salinity of water to make it suitable for carps.
"Water salinity in many places was as high as 45ppt (parts per thousand). Our researches showed that we had to maintain it at 10ppt for breeding fish. Thankfully, canal water is abundant here and the water table too is just below the ground. The problem of salinity was thus solved by adding canal water to ground water. That done, carps were introduced as they could tolerate this level of salinity," adds Dr Dhawan.
Hereafter began a promising journey, as Dr Dhawan puts it, "Our harvest has been good. We have even had carps weighing about 1.5 kg. Motivated, we have now introduced prawns as they too can tolerate water with high salinity. I am sure we will be able to cultivate them."
There are more plans in line. Dr Kamaldeep Kaur, Dean, College of Fisheries, says, "Our next challenge is to breed those species of fish that can grow in saline waters. Entrepreneurs in southwestern Punjab have expressed keen interest in making fish products that can be sold outside the state."
Talking about economics, Dr Taneja says, "The input cost of an acre of pond is around Rs 30,000. It easily earns a farmer something between Rs 60,000 and Rs 1 lakh. And mind you, this money is from a land that wasn't fetching even a penny earlier."
Punjab has 1.25 lakh hectares of land, which is both waterlogged and saline. This land is, therefore, unfit for agriculture
A majority of this land falls in the southwestern districts of Muktsara, Ferozepur, Faridkot, Bathinda and Mansa. Underground water in this area is not fit for irrigation and thus farmers here use canal water. With lack of use of underground water, waterlogging in these areas has increased leading to soil deterioration to such a level that has left soil beyond reclamation.