Lack of market facility and poor road connectivity in Phalee village under the Lungchong Maiphei Block (LM Block) of Ukhrul district, Manipur continue to pose major challenges to the farmers who are struggling to earn their living with cultivation of seasonal and organic crops.
Phalee village is situated about 107 km away from Imphal City via Tongou road and 29 km from Ukhrul town. Endowed with rich biodiversity, Phalee village recently celebrated Liuwtoh Phanit Festival - the seed-sowing festival for five long days with the aim to preserve indigenous farm seeds and promote the culture and tradition of the village people.
However, amid the lack of market facility nearby, the villagers are facing a hard time in transportation of their farm produce for selling. Often, their efforts go waste as their produce from the fields start to rot owing to the difficulty in timely transportation, especially during the rainy season due to lack of an all-weather road.
“We, the women of Phalee, have been working hard to produce good crop yields. However, all our efforts go in vain as our produce from the fields often get rotten on many occasions due to lack of market facilities,” a potato cultivator of Phalee village, Pemi Ng said as she narrated the grievances faced by the farmers of the village when a team of media visited the village.
Adding to their woes amid the poor road condition, the transportation cost from the village to the town is high, she lamented.
“We have tried hiring private vehicles to transport our products for sale in Imphal and Ukhrul. However, due to big bargaining by buyers, all the profits go to the transportation charge,” she added, informing that the transportation charge from Phalee to Imphal cost around Rs 5,000 to 6,000 per trip.
According to village records, eight greenhouses were set up at the village under the Self-Help Group (SHG) schemes to promote organic farming.
Pemi also informed that the fate of those organic farmers under the SHG is the same due to the poor or lack of infrastructure, including marketing facilities in the village.
“If we are not provided market facilities, and if the state government continues to look the other way, I don’t know what will be the fate of the farmers in the coming days,” said Pemi.
According to reports, a few farmers in LM Block had adopted ganja or cannabis cultivation way back in mid 70s and poppy cultivation a few years ago for survival as the seasonal vegetables and fruits cultivated and produced by the farmers started rotting in the village as there is no storage facility in the village and the farm goods could not be transported in good time for selling to other places and towns.
“It is good that the present state government launched the war on drugs mission across the state, cracking down poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. The government’s campaign against illegal drugs is now supported by all the village authorities in the LM Block. If not for it, the whole villagers might have adopted the illegal poppy cultivation, said one senior villager, Akhui Jagoi, while commenting on the recent widespread practice of poppy cultivation among the farmers in some hill districts.
Considering the present scenario, there is a fear that the farmers in the village might resume such illegal crop plantations considering the easier efforts in cultivation of it, he said, adding “By saying this, I don’t mean to support them. I am strongly against it. I am just expressing my fear”.
Wife of Phalee village headman, Ningreiwon Awungshi, suggested that providing a marketing space for the Tangkhul community in Imphal like the Mao market or implementing a scheme to procure the horticulture products by the government agency will be a great help in addressing the grievances of the poor farmers in the district.
According to Chief Minister N Biren, the area of poppy cultivation in the state has reduced by almost 90 per cent in 2022 with the massive poppy destruction drive taken up by the government as a part of its War on Drugs campaign across the state. The government has also been providing the farmers an alternative to the poppy cultivation by ways of introducing and promoting horticulture crops.
However, the prevailing condition witnessed in biodiversity rich Phalee village is totally the opposite. The innocent farmers, who are cultivating seasonal crops, are a helpless lot as they are left with no marketing facility. They are unable to market their produce despite rich yields. To ease the plight of the poor villagers, whose sole source of livelihood is farming seasonal crops, the state government should provide them a market space and other facilities and required infrastructure so that they do not resort to illegal crop plantation for survival.
During a meeting with various village leaders of LM Block consisting of 28 villages and population of approximately 30,000, all the village leaders raised the problem of the road poor connectivity and “crumbled administration”.
“We have heard about blacktopping of roads in various villages located in extreme interior border areas; however, it is unfortunate that black topping of the road has never reached the LM Block,” lamented headman of Somdal village, RVS Phungnang.
Recalling the assurance provided to blacktop the road leading to LM Block by chief minister N Biren Singh during his maiden visit to the block in December 2021, he said, “The chief minister’s assurance has become mere words”.
During the historic visit to the LM block, the chief minister inaugurated LM Police Outpost, a branch office of Manipur State Cooperative Bank Ltd, SDO/BDO office and One Stop Centre (Sakhi).
Alleging that the concerned Sub Divisional Officer never sat in the LM Block, he informed that the people of the block have to visit the district headquarters for any official work, spending a lot of money on transportation.
“The SDO himself has told me that he does not want to sit in his office as there is no proper light, mobile network and water facilities,” he said, questioning, “Is this the nature of an administration or the fault of the villagers?”
Headman of Thangou village, Atem S Shimray, also spoke about the failure of healthcare facilities in LM Block.
Pointing out that most of the child delivery cases were done in the traditional method and those with serious illnesses are usually referred to hospitals in Imphal, he said such emergency transportation to Imphal is difficult for the poor villagers.
The village headman also claimed that all the government high schools operating in the LM block have a strength of only two-three teachers per school. Will it be possible to run a high school by just two-three teachers, he asked.
Amid the grievances and inconvenience faced by the villagers, they have been engaging in various government missions such as war on drugs and green Manipur among others, he said.
Considering the present scenario and grievances faced by the villagers in LM Block, the headmen appealed to the state government to emphasize on the development of the block and ensure smooth functioning of the government institutes in the block.