The Meitei month of plentiful ‘Poinu’ comes in the last week of November and it is synonymous with a good harvest from the fields. However, in many parts of the state except for some pockets in Bishnupur district it is going to be a bad harvest or almost nil.
Bereft of timely rain and fertiliser besides lack of irrigation water, the fields are still full of cracks. However, the state is blind to this impending catastrophe where the granaries of the poor farmers would be empty and nothing to show for the hard labour they had put in the paddy fields.
The other day, state Agriculture Minister Th Bishwajit was heard appealing to farmers to put in maximum efforts to increase rice production as the state government had taken a decision to buy paddy directly from the farmers at a reasonable price fixed by the government. No doubt, it was a good decision. In the last few years, the price of paddy and local rice had fallen to such a level that poor farmers were struggling to make ends meet, while grocery shops had even stopped stocking Meitei Cheng.
And then Covid-19 came and the Narendra Modi government began flooding the country with free rice. Suddenly, paddy cultivation became a bad investment both for the poor landless farmers and the landholders. In such a situation, the state government’s initiative to buy up surplus paddy from farmers at Minimum Support Price (MSP) was a welcome move. But, the state has to seriously study the pathetic situation in our fields owing to several factors and discuss how to remedy it.
The future of agriculture has become bleaker in the absence of a sound state agriculture policy coupled with the new challenges brought forth by the impact of climate change. The reasons given are lack of adequate rainfall in time, unprecedented rise in temperature and of course the chaos in distribution of fertilisers. This pattern has been going on for the last few years and paddy cultivation is becoming a losing pursuit on account of high cost of production and no remunerative price.
The present trend of declining profitability together with higher cost of new technology and a degree of uncertainty, in both price and productivity, meant that farmers had to bear tremendous risks in agriculture. High yield rate, high cost of production and low profitability is the present scenario of agricultural enterprise in the state.
We also appreciate the efforts of the state government to save paddy land and check the unwarranted use of paddy fields for non-agriculture purposes. An appeal was made to stop constructions of structures in paddy fields and warned of legal action against violators of the Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetlands Act, 2014. State Revenue officials had been conducting a survey of all agricultural lands and the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetlands Act, 2014 has been invoked in the present survey.
We all know that revenue officials have been circumventing the law time and again, even though there were restrictions earlier also on conversion of agricultural land as homestead land or for non-agricultural activities. No doubt, the state had been losing agricultural land every year.
Saving paddy land is a good initiative. However, in the evolving scenario our main focus should rather be how to save agriculture activities as it is the mainstay of our economy. Lucky that we have a thriving Central Agriculture University (CAU) in the state besides a full-fledged centre of Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) and the state government should be taking maximum advantage of it.
In consultation with these institutions, the state Agriculture department needs to evolve a sound agriculture policy taking into consideration climate resilient agriculture practices, support mechanisms for poor landless farmers, reduction of use of chemical fertilisers and steady introduction of bio-fertilisers, and a sound procurement policy.