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Need for Agriculture Policy in Manipur

It would be appropriate to develop a comprehensive agriculture policy taking into the needs of the farmers not only for the present but for the future also.

ByRK Nimai

Updated 1 Nov 2022, 3:54 pm

(Photo: IFP)
(Photo: IFP)

 

During the distribution of farm machinery under SMAM (Sub Mission on Agricultural Mechanization) in Manipur on October 31, 2022, the state chief minister encouraged farmers to plant vegetables in fallow agricultural land after harvesting of paddy. He also assured of setting up a special sub-committee comprising Agriculture, Water resources, Horticulture, Minor Irrigation and others to look into the issue of lack of irrigation facilities during the dry season faced by the farmers of the state.

The chief minister further mentioned that a toll free number will be introduced to facilitate farmers willing to utilise their paddy fields after paddy harvest. The farmers can use the toll free number to seek assistance or raise issues related to agriculture. He assured the government will strive to fulfil the requirements of the farmers, including seeds and water.

The Agriculture minister also stated that the government is promoting digital and natural farming and considering ways to enhance productivity to increase farmers’ income through the use of technology. He mentioned the department is ready to take up four types of demonstration at different parts of the state, one for natural farming through use of cow dung, one for organic farming with vermi-compost and other inputs, one using nano technology and the last with chemical fertilisers to compare the productivity.

He urged the farmers to switch from excessive use of chemical fertilisers due to health issues and go for organic or natural farming.

Although he mentioned about the ill effects of chemical fertilisers which is debatable, there is no mention about any experiment on the use of bio-chemicals instead of chemical pesticides, the latter of which is regarded as the main causative factor of the various health issues.

These exhortations look good on hearing and it is expected that follow up action will be taken up. But there seems to be a lack of understanding of the various issues farmers of the state are facing and perhaps the political leadership were not properly briefed. Some of the issues are discussed in the following paragraphs.

Lack of irrigation is not a new phenomenon but an enduring one. Not to speak about the dry season, this year even the monsoon was haphazard resulting in paddy fields in many parts of the states developing cracks with no harvest. If timely irrigation was provided, some harvest could have been possible.

Many farmers are crying for government assistance for the coming Rabi crop. The Water Resources department formerly IFCD is interested only in creating irrigation potential.

All the medium irrigation projects just could not provide irrigation, as the real irrigation provided is less than 20 per cent of the potential created.

The special committee will not be able to do anything for this Rabi season when the farmers are facing acute distress.

A toll free number where problems of farmers will be heard and efforts to redress will be made is good. There are, however, a few Whatsapp groups started by interested experts with reasonable membership that provide technical advice to farmers. Such groups are providing yeoman service and the toll free number may not be able to match such groups.

Water harvesting during monsoon is good on paper but difficult in practice, as the ponds where water is stored dry up during the lean season when the need for water is the maximum. Redressing this problem will require long term planning while this year what the farmers need is short term intervention.

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Providing seeds to farmers only is not sufficient as other inputs are also needed such as fertilisers, water, etc, and the department must immediately swing into action to assess the needs of the farmers in different parts of the state.

The supplied inputs must be of excellent quality or in other words the procurement must be from well known reliable farms.

Natural farming enunciated by Masanubo Fukuoka in his “One Straw Revolution '' was tried in the eighties at Andro under his supervision but without much success.

The present natural farming propagated by the Union government is different from that of Fukuoka and was perhaps a reaction to the acute shortage of chemical fertilisers this year due to the Russo-Ukraine war as Russian and Belarus were the main supplier of fertilisers to India and this year hardly anything was available from these two countries and India had to source from other countries with limited success.

Cowdung is a good source of plant nutrients and improves the quality of the soil but are there sufficient cows to provide the necessary quantity to meet the requirement for agriculture?

The number of zebu cows the dung of which are good for farming has decreased dramatically and most animals for beef purpose are brought illegally from Myanmar.

To overcome the lack of quantity, it was propagated that very little quantity is required and the microorganisms present will divide and cover the farm. There were a few success stories doing the rounds elsewhere, but whether it actually can replace chemical fertilisers is still a big question mark and the farmers must not be the one who should experiment.

The idea of running four plots using different methods as mentioned by the concerned Minister is relevant. But the issue is when nano fertilisers are used, how will the basal dressing be provided?

Yes nano fertilisers can be used for foliar application, even using drones.

Further, most of the ill effects of chemical inputs are from chemical pesticides and whether any experiment will be done on bio-pesticides via a vis chemical pesticides?

While experimenting on the effectiveness of the different modes of farming, the cost of inputs and labour has to be kept in mind as vermi-compost or compost is more costly and voluminous vis a vis chemical fertilisers.

After talking to quite a few farmers, it transpired that the profit which a farmer gets is not actually profit per se but rather mostly the value of his labour input.

While determining the return from agriculture, the tendency is to leave out the cost of the wages component provided by the farmer and his family. It is assumed that while conducting the experiment, the wage component is factored into.

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For most of the farmers, it cannot be a pure chemical based farming or a pure organic or natural farming, or using only nano fertilisers but a combination of two or more to enhance his return; except for those farmers who prefer to stick to pure organic or natural farming.

Thus, the experiment design needs to include combinations also. Earlier there were demonstration farms but where are they now? In these farms new practices and varieties were earlier tried by the government.

With climate change, the weather pattern is shifting. The volume of rain in a season is not that critical but the timing of the rains is in rain fed conditions like Manipur. Thus, one option is the adoption of climate resilient crops.

When India faced hunger during the 1950s and 1960s, the focus was on increasing production by adopting HYV of paddy and wheat. Coarse cereals like bajra and ragi were treated step-motherly and were eased out.

But due to its climate resilient characters it is now being brought to focus and HYV are being developed and popularised. Even in paddy, low water requirement varieties are being bred.

Similarly coarse pulse like kesar dal or grass pea was banned in India due to presence of a neurotoxin causing lathyrism though many countries do not ban it like Bangladesh, Spain, etc and now varieties with low content of the neurotoxin has been developed and these can be tried as in Bihar, as it is climate resilient and can be cultivated after paddy with little input.

The tendency to speak out proposed actions in a public function had become the norm practiced all across the country. However, agriculture is a vast and complex subject and all information is still unavailable.

The role of microorganisms in the soil and what types of microorganisms are not clearly understood though it is clear that they play a major role in agriculture. Thus, it would be appropriate to develop a comprehensive agriculture policy taking into the needs of the farmers not only for the present but for the future also.

The policy may include short-term, medium-term and long-term measures. Subject experts as well as progressive farmers must be involved in the development of the comprehensive policy. In the past, all new varieties were introduced by the government like Taichung Native 1, Padma, Jaya, and IR-8 rice, Kufri jyoti, and Kufri chandramukhi potatoes but now most of the new crops and varieties are tried through private initiative.

The introduction of low chilling apples, strawberry, Lady Rosetta potato, dragon fruit, broccoli, zucchini, etc are all through private initiatives and not through government initiatives.

The desire towards innovative approaches is present in our farmers. Thus, a comprehensive Agriculture Policy developed with the involvement of farmers and experts will be able to address the problems the farmers are at present facing and not through compartmental intervention and it should provide the way ahead.

(The views expressed is personal)

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SMAMSub Mission on Agricultural Mechanizationmanipur agriculture policy

RK Nimai

RK Nimai

The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur

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