Manipur is primarily an agriculture-based state in Northeast India, with a significant proportion of its population (more than 60 per cent) dependent on farming and allied activities for their livelihood either directly or indirectly. This highlights the crucial role that agriculture and allied activities play in shaping the socio-economic landscape of Manipur.
The state is also characterized by diverse communities with different ethnic backgrounds, languages, and cultural traditions.
Unfortunately, the tranquillity in Manipur has been disrupted by a violent confrontation between the Meitei and Kuki tribal community. The conflict between the two communities began on May 3, 2023. This ongoing conflict has led to more than 200 deaths, displacement of around 60,000 individuals, and significant destruction of properties till date. The figures will continue to rise if the current situation persists.
The Impact of the Current Crisis on Agriculture and Related Industries
The ongoing conflict in Manipur has deeply impacted all the sectors, including agriculture and allied sectors, causing a major disruption in farming activities. Agricultural workers, who make up a significant portion of the economically disadvantaged population, are facing considerable challenges during this crisis.
The widespread fear and insecurity in the heavily impacted regions, particularly in areas where the two communities once lived harmoniously together, have resulted in a near-complete abandonment of agricultural activities. Farmers are unable to tend to their crops and livestock, leading to crop failure and loss of income.
Furthermore, farmers in general also encounter obstacles in obtaining necessary resources such as seeds, fertilizers, and other requirements due to disrupted supply chains. This decline in agricultural productivity will impact the financial well-being of farmers leading to further tensions and conflicts.
Agriculture and allied activities are generally dependent on specific seasons. For example, the ongoing conflict coincides with the cultivation season for paddy, various horticultural crops, fisheries and livestock activities. In addition, the psychological consequences of these conflicts have greatly undermined the productivity and work efficiency of all individuals in the state.
The present crisis has also significantly impacted the marketing channels, leading to numerous challenges and obstacles.
Transportation and trade disruptions have made it difficult for farmers to sell their produce. The marketing of agricultural products like pineapple, passion fruit, king chilli, turmeric, ginger, etc, from the Kuki inhabitant area to meet the demand of the valley has been severely impacted. These goods were traditionally sold in the valley or to other regions through merchants in the valley.
Similarly, the production of rice, pulses, fresh vegetables, and other crops from the valley or surrounding regions that are supplied to meet the demands of Kuki residents is also adversely affected.
This disruption is not limited to agricultural items alone but also affects necessities like healthcare supplies, household goods, transportation, etc. The restricted availability and heightened demand have contributed to exorbitant prices of necessary goods, exacerbating the already precarious circumstances. Based on statements from valley-based farmers' organizations, such as LOUSAL, Irabot Foundation, Kangleipak Progressive Farmers Association, and All Manipur Progressive Farmers Association during a press conference on August 14, 2023, it has been estimated that agriculture and allied sector production (agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, fisheries and sericulture) have suffered losses amounting to approximately Rs 388.39 crore due to the current crisis in the valley region. These numbers will become even more concerning when losses in farming activities within Kuki-inhabited areas are quantified and added.
Currently, there is no specific data available from government agencies regarding the estimated losses resulting from the current crisis.
Agriculture's Role in Conflict Resolution and Peace Restoration
"You cannot build peace with empty stomachs" - Norman Ernest Borlaug (Father of Green Revolution) Agriculture and allied sectors have the potential to catalyze peace and reconciliation in Manipur's ongoing conflict. Here are some key ways in which agriculture can contribute to resolving conflicts and restoring peace:
1. Public discussions: Facilitate inclusive and collaborative discussions or forums among individuals representing diverse communities affected by agricultural challenges. Highlight the positive impact of agriculture in fostering community development and encourage stakeholders to collaborate on addressing common challenges. Effective communication is key, but it is also important to overcome any pre-existing biases that may hinder understanding and cooperation.
2. Livelihood Restoration: By reinstating farming operations, farmers can restore their income source and reduce socio-economic stress that may contribute to conflicts. Nevertheless, the successful implementation of these measures would necessitate substantial financial backing.
3. Identify Shared Goals and Joint Planning: Encourage community engagement to collaboratively identify and work towards common agricultural goals. By promoting inclusive planning, we encourage interaction and negotiation among diverse groups while developing a sense of unity. It is crucial to address differences in priorities and conflicts that have caused disunity.
4. Community Infrastructure: Developing collaborative agricultural infrastructure, such as irrigation networks or storage facilities, necessitates the combined effort of diverse groups. This comprehensive process not only promotes interaction and trust-building but also cultivates a sense of collective responsibility. Building infrastructure within communities will also requires substantial financial investment and specialized knowledge.
5. Training and Workshops: Conduct training sessions and workshops on sustainable and modern agricultural practices. These sessions should be open to all members of the community, providing an opportunity for people from different backgrounds to learn and work together. Besides imparting useful skills, these sessions could serve as neutral locations for interaction and peace building amongst disparate groups.
6. Economic Integration: Agriculture-related value chains, such as food processing, packaging, and marketing, can create economic opportunities that involve multiple communities. Creating interdependencies between different communities encourages cooperation to maintain stable livelihoods, thereby reducing reasons for conflict.
7. Monitoring and Evaluation: Continuously evaluate the effectiveness of agricultural programmes by considering their influence on community dynamics. Implement feedback mechanisms to promptly identify and address any potential conflicts.
8. Documentation and Communication: Document the success stories and positive outcomes of agricultural-based conflict resolution initiatives. Share these stories through various channels to inspire other communities and model the peace-building potential of agriculture.
9. Government and NGO/CSO Support: Collaborate with government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs)/ Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and community leaders to ensure sustained support for conflict resolution efforts through agriculture. These organizations can also play a big role in mobilizing financial and other resources to support and implement agricultural projects. While agriculture and related activities can contribute to peace building and conflict resolution, their effectiveness is limited by ongoing violence. The continuous violence undermines the implementation of agricultural initiatives, endangering public, damaging infrastructure, and destabilizing communities. Therefore, a ceasefire or non-violent environment must be prioritized as a prerequisite for successfully executing these strategies.
Agriculture in Peace-building: Global Case Studies
Case studies worldwide have demonstrated the influential role of agriculture in fostering peace and harmony in conflict-ridden regions. For instance, in Assam's Bodoland Territorial Region notably in 2008, 2012, and 2014, agriculture enabled economic recovery and social integration post-ethnic conflict, reducing further conflicts spurred by deprivation or exclusion. In Darfur, Sudan (2003), agricultural opportunities provided alternatives to violence for young men and eased resource-driven tensions. Post-genocide, Rwanda (1994) utilized agriculture for economic reform and reconciliation, aiding population sustenance, economic growth, and poverty reduction. Finally, in Sierra Leone after the civil war (1991- 2002), agricultural programs facilitated reintegration of former child soldiers and promoted community rehabilitation and economic growth for lasting peace.
Each of these cases underline agriculture's pivotal role in peace-building and post-conflict recovery. Complementary Role of Non-Agricultural Sectors in Restoring Normalcy Several sectors alongside agriculture play crucial roles in conflict restoration.
Education can promote intercultural understanding, reducing tension. The health sector can provide essential services, contributing to community resilience. Banking and finance can support economic stability through financial aid programs for community rebuilding. Infrastructure and construction can stimulate economies and reconnect communities. Telecom and IT sectors can maintain essential connections and enable peaceful dialogue.
Media can promote open discussions and transparency. Effective governance will ensure safety measures and initiates recovery policies.
Therefore, a holistic approach that encompasses multiple sectors is essential for restoring normalcy and promoting peace in conflict-affected regions.
In summing up, it is evident that agriculture and allied activities will play an instrumental role in not only easing the current crisis but also in generating peace, harmony, and economic resurgence. This sector is far from being merely a source of sustenance; it acts as a unifier, bridging societal divides through shared goals and interdependent economic networks. It requires collaborative efforts from key participants such as farmers, governmental bodies, NGOs/CSOs, and community leaders to face these challenges head-on. In doing so, they can sow the seeds of unity and, ultimately, cultivate lasting tranquility.
(The views expressed are the writers' own)