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..

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