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Monday, May 27, 2024

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Monday, May 27, 2024

State of agriculture in Meghalaya

The government can develop more and more ‘Smart Villages’ where farmers can get at their fingertips various facilities.

Kamakhya Bhattacharjee

If we look back at the period when Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills were two districts under Assam and compare the period after that we can easily make out the differences. The situation then was dependence and now, after some years, it has slowly changed for the better, now we are able to export some of our vegetables to Assam markets. If we visit a vegetable market in Silchar town we can see plenty of Meghalaya vegetables available there. In Shillong and other towns in Meghalaya now we are getting plenty of fresh vegetables and many kinds of fruits as well as various flowers in our markets and well within the purchasing power of middle-class families. However, the present market price is a bit higher for those who earn for the day with more of no-work days. Particularly the street vendors, who fight for the tiny spaces for selling their products and that too at a premium price if they can manage to get space.

Anyway, we cannot be overjoyed and sit comfortably and say we have grown enough. Even after large-scale exodus from villages to various towns and cities for different kinds of employment we have around 70 per cent rural population engaged in the profession of agriculture as their mainstay. It is quite formidable force considering the size of our state as well as its present population. If we can still manage them (farmers) to be sustainable in their field of occupation they seem to be enough to feed our whole population, for at least two meals a day.  The state of Meghalaya is also fortunate to have prominent institutions such as the North East Regional Centre for Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Indian Institute of Management, Institute of Hotel Management, State Rural Development Society (MSRLS) and many others. However we are not sure how many of our farmers are taking advantage of all these institutions. All these institutions are engaged in various kinds of research activities and trying to develop various technologies to make our lives more comfortable. I feel that, all their research activities need to be taken up in the farmer’s fields so that the farmers can get an opportunity to take part in them and learn to improve their farming activity.

Moreover, Meghalaya Basin Development Authority is promoting a lot of agricultural technologies throughout the state along with another very important department. The Science and Technology Department of Meghalaya is also promoting various kinds of scientific actions which can be used by common people for betterment of their life. However, many things more are yet to be accomplished. Our Agriculture minister has recently highlighted some significant achievements under sustainable farming methods which need to be our target for next five to ten years. Our farmers must become self-sufficient in respect of their profession and go for record production of many agricultural produces. We do understand there are some barriers which we need to overcome. The state does not have large areas under plain or flat land where a regular kind of farming similar to those of Punjab, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh can be practised. However, we do have plenty of hilly areas with good slopes where a number of fruits and vegetables can be grown and that too in much better way than many other states of India. Fortunately, Nature in its generous abundance has bestowed Meghalaya with a unique array of vegetation ranging from tropical and sub-tropical to temperate and near temperate climates. The drainage pattern here in Meghalaya represents a spectacular feature revealing extra-ordinary straight courses of rivers and streams. The state is covered by the warm per-humid agro-eco region enhancing and sustaining productivity of available land stock for primary production systems of crop cultivation, livestock raising and forest management. We must retard degradation of watersheds caused due to deforestation, soil erosion, and sedimentation. Our state is directly influenced by the South West monsoon and North Eastern winter winds.

However, for maintaining the present status of uniqueness we need thousands of skilled hands for doing all these activities efficiently and successfully. Our government needs to facilitate stoppage of large-scale exodus as well as various kinds of exploitations. In this respect our government can take up a scheme for development of more and more ‘Smart Villages’ where the learned farmers can get at their fingertips all facilities such as internet connection, regular electricity, fertiliser, manure, pesticide, herbicide, etc easily at government prices.

The Government of Meghalaya should also take up the matter of land tenure system which is unique here, but is not very convenient for bigger scale agriculture. For the sake of our state we can easily rectify them through various legislative measures so that the farmers can think of expansion of agriculture.  While mapping the S&T needs in the state a few years back the state Science and Technology Department had analysed the land use pattern in the state and categorised the whole state as forest areas – 9,50, 000 hectares, not available for cultivation ; 2,20,000 ha, uncultivable land;  6,20,670 ha, fallow land; 2,31,600 ha, net area sown; 2,18,385 ha, area sown more than once ; and total cropped areas 2,62,830 ha. Even if we ignore the statistics, still we come to the conclusion that Meghalaya does not possess too much land for regular cropping.

 Our state Agriculture minister has pushed for a sound State Policy so that natural farming can be promoted which in fact our farmers find very convenient to do. In this respect of policy development we need to discuss in detail with all stakeholders and be flexible enough to leave the matter to be decided by the farmers themselves. Farmers are more experienced and know well which kind of farming methods or which kind of technologies will sustain them in the long run. There was a tendency to see our own farmers as ignorant and backward; they were invited to turn their gaze across the ocean, rather than look beneath their feet. In doing so, we completely turned a blind eye to their ancestral experience – a long history in which their active presence undermined the rich history of Indian agriculture system.

I understand that our government’s role should be limited to facilitate the resources and discourage all kinds of exploitations by various agencies. Our one-point programme needs to be the achievement of self-sufficiency for our farmers. A well established network of various services will definitely help our farmers. Bringing about 50,000 hectares or even more of land under natural farming, in other words the sustainable farming system should not be a big job to handle by farmers.

One more issue, and it is extremely important is that our farmers should get all kind of facilities to send their children to nearby schools where they should get all kinds of formal education including farming techniques, home making, sex education, management of our towns and cities, their rights and duties, and other life related education. Betterment of life or ease of living comfortably means and includes all these factors. For providing all these comforts to majority of farmers will give the actual push to agriculture. Our farmers have sought broad solutions to common problems such as occasional food shortages, rural exodus, and soil erosion, the modernisation of means of production, other social problems, time to time training, public health infrastructure, and other forms of social barriers. We all suffer by these social barriers but about which we could individually do little to resolve. In spite of our very strong wish to cooperate, the fact is that our farmers are obliged to devote most of their time to working in their individual or family plots in order to first and foremost to guarantee their own subsistence. Nevertheless, we are firmly convinced that we can achieve strong agriculture for the state.

We understand that our government’s role should be focussed with emphasis on some main activities which we propose to be :  —

(i)     Improving communication, linkages and cooperation between various existing      organisations.

(ii)  Strongly complement the current provision of education, training, extension support and exchange visits. In this respect we do have a few KVKs in almost all the districts in Meghalaya which needs to be utilised for extension of latest agricultural technologies along with latest updates.

(iii)        Help evaluate, document and promote successful sustainable agricultural practices. Help generate information and quantitative data from grassroots experiences to influence policy level decisions.

(iv)         Monitor development through various international organisations, disseminate information and ‘activate’ network groups as appropriate. Promote sustainable agriculture through advocacy and education of policy and decision-makers.

(v)            Provide a neutral forum for exchange of information for farmers, researchers, various development agencies, environmentalist, government extension services, policymakers, various pressure groups, non-agriculturists, etc.

If you have ideas and want to be part of the solution to the looming crisis threatening agriculture throughout our state as well as our whole country, get involved now.

(The writer is an agriculture expert who has been associated with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Meghalaya government in different capacities.)

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