The main problem faced by farmers in Manipur is the lack of a comprehensive water policy and a support mechanism for marketing of agricultural produce besides the problem of the majority of farmers being landless. These are only the basic problems plaguing agriculture in the state and a lot of other factors need to be incorporated while framing an agriculture policy specific to Manipur. First, one needs to highlight the ever-widening gap between demand and water sources while taking into account the erratic rainfall patterns.
Farmers cite construction of dams, deforestation at catchment areas, and quarrying among others as the main cause for the drying up of the small rivers and tributaries. Manipur has been facing a monsoon rain deficit of about 60 percent and receiving an annual rainfall of 1600 mm only. It is not only the case of rainfall deficit when farmers want it, in recent times rainfall patterns have become so erratic that farmers can no longer depend on it. This is indeed a tragedy as Manipur’s agriculture depends on timely rains. This year, pre-monsoon rainfall had been quite excessive. But, the uncertainty whether rains will be adequate when agriculture activity begins is very much there.
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The problem of water scarcity, however, persists due to lack of groundwater recharge and also depletion of groundwater resources, lack of facilities for harvesting rainwater and destruction of catchment areas. There are also reports showing that 42 per cent of the natural springs in the hill areas of the state have vanished.
In the context of Manipur, we need a state-specific comprehensive policy for water involving multiple departments so as to evolve an integrated strategy for rejuvenation of springs in the hills, afforestation of catchment areas of the major rivers, widespread rain-water harvesting schemes while regulating pumping of groundwater. One has to take into account the rapidly decreasing groundwater level before even thinking of harnessing it for agricultural purposes.
Secondly, the state does not have a marketing support mechanism for the agriculture produce to compensate for unforeseen situations and the ever increasing rise in expenditure for agriculture activities particularly paddy while the absence of cold chain mechanism in the state has led to huge loss among vegetable farmers.
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The coronavirus pandemic has affected every section of the society and the government in a bid to ensure food supply, particularly free rice to the general population for several months has taken a toll on the local farmers who are facing marketing problems of their produce. Lastly, it is the case of the landless farmers who are a majority in the state. They are mostly poverty stricken and indebted. They depend on investments from the urban landlords. They still have to give the pledged number of Phoubots (80 Kgs) to the investors or the landowners, while they struggle with whatever is left of the harvest. Their entire sustenance depends on that.
A regular farmer feeds his family, pays the fees for his children and other essential expenses with the income from the harvest. And they suffer when the price of paddy plummets. In a word, agriculture in the state is still practiced at a subsistence level as a survival for the poor and landless farmers. And imagine, the frustration of the poor farmer when he had to wait for long hours in queue for fertilizers when he should be toiling in the fields and run from pillar to post to hawk their produce with the ever reducing prices of paddy and rice.