By K L TARIANG
Meghalaya is yet to have a Policy on Agriculture. As reported recently by the Shillong Times newspaper, the state Agriculture Minister stated that the formulation of such a policy is a no mean task and has also not given any timeline for bringing out the Policy . However, as the majority of the state’s rural population depends on agriculture as a mean of livelihood such a policy is necessary as a pathway of improving the agricultural activities for the benefit of the farmers ,the society and the state economy at large as well as for food security.
Even without a policy, agriculture including that of its allied activities such as that of Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and others did, however, receive adequate attention in Meghalaya from successive state governments since statehood was attained, not to overlook the attention given by the erstwhile Assam government. There have been no dearth of agricultural schemes, technological support, supply of inputs , infrastructure built up, extension works and trainings and a host of other activities brought in so far for agricultural development. While much has been achieved in the field, apparently there is still much to be done . Lately mission modes programmes have been introduced which, however, still need to show results as anticipated. The setting up of the State Farmers’ Commission recently is another initiative . However, in the absence of a State Agriculture Policy which is expected to take into consideration the primary, secondary and tertiary processes in agricultural production, the outcomes might not be as rewarding as expected.
As reported, the state government has been going through the agriculture policies of other states which are more advanced in the agricultural sector to provide background for shaping our own state policy. Expectedly the local aspects such as the agro-climatic conditions, topography , socio- economic condition of the farmers, the land tenure system and others will be blended in as well to bring out a workable Policy. While optimistically the Policy will come through at a later stage, it would be necessary, perhaps, in the meanwhile to assess the present state of the farmers in the state. Like in the rest of the country there could be farmer’s distress here as well if income from farming does not commensurate with the efforts put in and if it is disproportionately low in comparison with the production. Supporting infrastructure could be still inadequate and there could be scarcity of physical and financial resources. Moreover, unpredictable weather conditions often upset the farmers’ expectations .These possible drawbacks besides others could lead many farmers to be disillusioned with the farming profession and may be pessimistic of its prospects as well .
The disillusionment and pessimism could lead many farmers to look for alternatives to farming and may not encourage their children to continue with farming either, thereby reducing the participation of family members in farming. In some cases it may cease to be an ancestral or a traditional occupation if its prospects diminish . Moreover, diversified income generating opportunities in the rural areas and wages oriented government rural development schemes could attract many farmers towards these opportunities leading them to focus less on agriculture or allied activities . Some farmers may also be displaced from their agriculture land when an increasing number of urban population purchase land in the rural areas for non- agricultural purposes. These and other occurrences would consequently reduce the farmer’s population size and if pessimism also has a disobliging influence then the state agriculture production could be adversely affected .
An assessment of the varying size of land holdings of farmers in the state will specify the number of large , medium , small and marginal farmers regardless of the ownership status and this will also indicate the number of landless farmers. This will determine the type of agricultural activities better suited and economically viable to individual farmers for improved and sustained production. Meanwhile there has been an intrusion of non- agricultural activities into cultivated and cultivable land in recent years. Mining alone must have intruded into large tracts of existing and potential agricultural and horticultural land. Those which have potential for sericulture , fishery, livestock and other allied activities must be affected as well. The resultant damages from such intrusion could be irrecoverable thereby reducing the original potential area available for agriculture and related activities in the state . An assessment of the extent of the area loss and those still available will provide a realistic projection of future plans for expansion of agriculture and allied activities .
Undoubtedly much efforts have been put in to make farmers aware about the incentives offered by the government for agricultural development. However, the literacy rate of most of our farmers may not be up to that level to make them easily absorb what has been propagated. Therefore many farmers may not be fully conversant about the government agricultural schemes and about their provisions. The awareness about Minimum Support Price (MSP) where government declares the rate for purchase of agricultural produces from the farmers might not be well disseminated much to the advantage of the middleman instead. Many farmers may not be able to take advantage of crop insurance, livestock insurance, the soil health card scheme, the kisan credit card and a host of other individual schemes possibly for want of more hand holding exercises. In fact, there have been frequent introduction of various agriculture schemes under different nomenclatures and with elaborate guidelines which at times baffle even a scholarly individual. So how can an illiterate or poorly literate farmer grasp their basic concepts even if frequently elucidated. It would be necessary therefore to assess the literacy rate of our farmers for defining appropriate methodology and approaches for dissemination of information and for better absorption
Meanwhile the scheme of Direct Cash Transfer which involves transferring the amount due directly to the beneficiaries’ bank accounts instead of providing it through government offices is much in vogue now and applicable to farmers as well. The number of farmers with mobile phones, with bank or post office accounts and with Aadhar cards are essential information required for implementing the cash transfer scheme effectively. Further as environmental protection should be in the forefront of all development initiatives , it would be necessary to assess farmer’concerns for the environment and its vulnerability out of the practices they have adopted. Gauging the farmers’awareness and opinion about politics and government is also essential as their consciousness on these aspects will be advantageous to their profession especially as they have a high numerical strength at the time of electing public representatives .
There could be many other aspects of ground assessments which can give up to date information to supplement existing information available. In fact , direct interactions with the farmers on their home front without formalities sans their representatives could provide more in- depth understanding of their issues and what they look forward to. While it would not be feasible to have a detailed assessment on the ground to look into the farmer’s individual issues and the other aspects mentioned, however a widespread random sample size assessment could bring out enough data and information to reflect the larger picture. It is imperative perhaps to have such a ground assessment preferably by an independent agency ..The information gathered would besides other considerations be worthwhile for the formulation of the State Agriculture Policy and for those who are involved in the subject of agriculture and allied activities in the state..