There has been no report of fresh attacks on farmers living in the peripheral areas of the valley districts in strife-torn Manipur for the past few days. However, the apprehension of renewed attacks by armed miscreants from the hill areas continued to linger in the minds of the farmers. Despite the fear of militant attacks and risk to their lives, farmers have returned to their paddy fields and begun cultivation for “fear of famine”.
While the fear of armed militant attacks persists, the fear of famine is growing stronger among the farmers as the sowing season in the state is hit by the communal violence that began on May 3.
“Attacks from militants may kill or injure me but famine will kill the whole state,” one L Ibomcha, a farmer from Bishnupur district, told this Imphal Free Press reporter.
Ibomcha said the sowing season was about to end and if cultivation was not done within the next few days, then rain would stop and they would be unable to cultivate for the year.
Pointing out that the ongoing situation of the state has already impacted the farmers of Manipur both in hill and valley, he said, “Now is the time of sowing paddy seeds and in some paddy fields, which have enough water, one may see small plants. But the paddy fields which are nearer to hill areas are beginning to harvest. However, many farmers are suffering due to lack of water for proper irrigation of fields”.
Since the outbreak of the ethnic clash on May 3 this year, the state government has been trying to bring normalcy in the state, even providing security forces for protection of farmers cultivating in the peripheral areas. For the same, the government had announced to cut down escorts and security covers of VVIPs, VIPs, ministers and MLAs and provide about 2,000 state forces for protection of farmers in the state.
Following the announcement of security cover, after two months of stay in relief camps, several farmers returned for cultivation. But as violence hit the sowing season in Manipur, farmers struggle to carry out agricultural activities owing to lack of rainwater for irrigation of paddy fields.
Also, despite the security arrangement provided by the government, there are areas of paddy fields that farmers find it difficult to enter because it is too close to the foothills from where the militants carry out the attacks.
One Basanta, a tenant farmer of Pukhao Terapur in Imphal East district, told the Imphal Free Press that several hectares of paddy fields lie uncultivated in Imphal East district due to the fear of attacks.
Farmers of Ikou, Sadu Yengkhuman, Pukhao, Dolaithabi, Leitanpokpi Awang Leikai (Mairenpat) and Nongshum are staying away from paddy fields even though it is the height of paddy cultivation season in the state.
Farmers are able to enter their fields only when security is provided but that too only in short range and does not cover the whole paddy field, Basanta said.
“The agricultural land, which is far from the hill, is being cultivated as it is a little farther from the place where armed miscreants had carried out the attack. But the land which is near the hill areas is considered unsafe to visit. So, this vast arable land remains uncultivated this year. Therefore, crop production from my place will be very low this year,” Basanta said.
He said he will not be able to pay rent for the paddy this year. Every year, he cultivated six acres of agricultural land, but this year, due to the current condition, he could cultivate only four acres. However, he has not been able to sow seeds untill now due to lack of water, he lamented.
From field visits, it is seen that 90 per cent of the villagers of Ikou, Sadu Yengkhuman, Pukhao and Dolaithabi are farmers or agricultural workers.
One Ibemcha, a farmer from Pukhao Terapur, said that her paddy field is close to a hill, but under security protection, she began cultivation and was about to sow seeds but stopped due to lack of water. She informed that almost all paddy fields, not only those which are nearer to the hill, are facing shortage of water.
They may not have face shortage of water if they started cultivation in time. However, due to the ongoing crisis they fled their village and stayed at a relief camp for about two months and returned this month, she said. Moreover, soon after they returned home, they were unable to step into the paddy fields from fear of attacks by militants from the nearby hills.
“During the day, you will think there is peace in the village. But come at night and you will know the reality”, she said, adding that the sound of shooting and burning in hillsides haven’t stopped yet.
She also said that men of the villages are busy in protecting villages at night and at day time some go for farming, some for driving and others remain without work.
“Seventy per cent of farming has begun at Pukhao Terapur, but 50 per cent are unable to sow the seeds due to water shortage,” she said, adding that as of now there is enough paddy for consumption but it could be over after two-three months, she feared.
Seeds should be sown within a few days, by any means, to prevent shortage of rice, she said.
Due to the attacks on farmers, more than 10,000 hectares of agricultural land in the state might not see paddy plantation this season. Farmers were not able to cultivate rice and vegetables due to unprovoked attacks on them by unknown miscreants.
“Around 40,000 metric tons of rice would be under deficit next year, which means around one lakh [100,000] of the population will not receive sufficient share of rice. This is an alarming situation and the government must step up if they want to avoid famine in Manipur,” said Irabot Foundation Manipur president Gopen Luwang.
Director of the department of agriculture, N Gojendro, also said that due to the ongoing unrest in the state, many farmers are unable to tend their fields. As of June 28, approximately 5,127 hectares of agricultural land remain uncultivated, resulting in a loss of 15,437.23 metric tons of food production.
“If the farmers are unable to cultivate paddy during this agriculture season, the losses will escalate by July end,” said Gojendro.
There is concern of potential shortage of locally grown rice which could lead to price hike next year if farming operations do not resume fully in all areas by the end of July from the farmer's side.
“Instant firing from hilltop bunkers has paralysed paddy cultivation in periphery fields. However, some of us go to the fields with fear in our hearts, but we have to cultivate or else we will go hungry for an entire year,” said Biramani, a farmer from Imphal East.
He said sowing and cultivation of Manipur rice takes place in June and July, with harvesting taking place five months later in late November. However, they are yet to sow seed to dry fields, he added.
“Last year, heavy rain flooded the paddy fields at the end of May, whereas, this year, there is less rainfall. It is difficult to cultivate in dry soil,” Biramani added.
A police official said that 2,207 additional security personnel were provided in seven districts, 8,222 security personnel to farmers in Imphal West, 300 personnel to Churachandpur, 298 in Imphal East, 236 in Bishnupur, 204 in Kakching, 200 in Kangpokpi and 147 in Thoubal district.