Similar to most of the states in India, Meghalaya also is an agrarian state where 83% of the population depends on agriculture. Through all of Zizira explorers’ numerous field visits we learnt that majority of the farmers in Meghalaya are small-scale farmers. This means that each such farmer holds no more than 0.2 hectares on an average. Because of these limited and restrictive plot sizes, these farmers produce only enough for self-consumption.
Furthermore, they would either lease or hire more land to supplement their own meagre plots in order to make a livelihood, where they are not capable of doing any of the above, so they start looking for work as daily laborers to meet their everyday needs. The outcome? A long traditional chain gets broken as these traditional farmers opt for other employment opportunities to support their families.
Meghalaya faces a deficit in food grains in order to feed a population of 2.3 million. The main reasons behind these constraints include the undulating topography, transport, infrastructure, inadequate credit support and poor or non-existent marketing system.
Another major concern is the decline in the number of youths willing to take up agriculture as their career. These youths need to feel motivated to pursue agriculture as a livelihood and retain and pass on traditional agricultural knowledge and practices.
What are the obstacles? What could be the reasons?
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Farmers Moving to Cities:
The ratio of the rural: urban population has been declining in the last decade with a large number of the population moving to cities in search of a better means of livelihood.
Among these, majority includes students hailing from village who are currently studying in the cities. These youths avoid going back to continue what their parents did.
A research conducted by the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), suggests that given an employment opportunity, 61% of Indian farmers would like to shift to cities, and 50% of the farmers are ready to quit farming, if such a possibility arises.
During mid-March 2016, I visited Pomlum and Nongkynrih villages with my relatives. During the conversation with the farmers here, I learned that the villagers prefer to choose other professions such as daily wage labourer, working in a shop/bricks industry, teaching, etc. This is mainly because of the inadequate ratio of land to person", said Marbadondor Pohti, Sr. Executive, Chillibreeze.
Lack of Seeds or Planting Materials:
Quality raw material assures sustained growth in agricultural production. This can only be realized if the subsistence and small-scale farmers have access to quality planting materials and organic fertilizers.
Lack of quality planting material is a major constraint which leads to the adoption of GMOs, hybrids and chemical-based fertilizers. Good quality seeds are out of reach for the majority of farmers, especially small and marginal farmers mainly because of the exorbitant prices.
But where to get them? The Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya offers quality planting materials including other inputs with a full package of practices at no cost at all. So why not leverage this? Is there a criterion?
At present this scheme is available only to farmers possessing land of at least 0.2 hectares. This can be a possible solution as the average size of family farms in Meghalaya is 0.21 hectare. What is missing? Awareness, the farmers are yet to learn about these various schemes so as to best capitalize on the already available benefits.
I grow turmeric all by myself without any additional labour. I then take my turmeric to Shillong and sell. I know that there are government schemes to help farmers like myself but I am in the dark. Yet, in spite of this, I am continuing what our ancestors have been doing, and that is growing turmeric” said a 70-year-old lady farmer at Lad Mynksan.
Transportation and road connectivity from rural areas to even the nearest market becomes nonviable for the small-scale farmers. In Meghalaya, 47.02% of villages are still not connected by concrete roads. Road connectivity varies across the districts, from 61% in the South Garo Hills district to 26% in the Jaintia Hills.
I know a farmer who grows bay leaf, areca nut and a little bit of pepper. He does the farming in a place call Mawdon. You first have to drive about 75 km and then another 45-minute walk to reach this village from Shillong. His farm land is another 30 minutes’ walk from his house. He is a little old now and his three sons do all of the work, including taking the produce to the nearest market in the next village. They would pack the bay leaves in 50 kg gunny bags and walk to Lawbah, the next village. This is more of a straight up climb and with this load, it takes them about 45 to 60 minutes from the village." James Synai, DGM, Chillibreeze.
Under these circumstances, the farmers cannot carry their produce to the main market and are forced to sell at a lower price if a middleman visits the village for bulk purchases.
Dominance of Local Middlemen:
In the absence of a stable market, the farmers become dependent on the local traders and middlemen to sell their farm produce at low prices. These local traders and middlemen dominate the local marketing and trading facility which directly hampers the farmers. This means that the farmers become vulnerable and accept the rates decided by them which favor farmers the least.
In Meghalaya the government has already started regulated markets where a system of competitive buying is introduced. These markets help in erasing malpractices and ensuring that the farmers are not exploited.
This seems to be a noble venture to tackle one of the biggest challenges faced by the farmers, at present the availability of only two (Mawiong in East Khasi Hills District and Garobadha, West Garo Hills District) secondary regulated markets in the State makes it nonviable for majority of the farmer population.
I am skeptical about the future of my farm as my children doesn't seem to be interested in farming. Due to the undulating terrain, we have to walk long distances to bring manure to our fields at times through steep slopes. The cost of farming is going up, prices of planting materials, manures and human labours are rising as well. Even the transportation adds up to the cultivation cost incurred. We don't keep track of every single penny we spent. This gives us incorrect estimates and it worries me!" said a farmer from Umlyngka Village, Meghalaya.
Is There Hope?
To improve the agricultural scenario and to start with, a few of the means would include:
- Subsistence farmers getting inputs or planting materials for free even if they have less than 0.2 hectares of farmland.
- Individual farmers can work together in the form of cluster farming and self-help groups so that they may protect their own interests as opposed to being dictated by middlemen.
- Establishment of agro-based industries, which will bring better returns to the farmers and will also increase the shelf life of local produce.
If the annual agriculture income is more than a salaried income, youngsters will take the plunge into agriculture. Unlike the old adage that agriculture comprises only old people into their 60's, today the interest among present day educated youth and their dedication towards farming is an encouraging sign that the agriculture scene is going through a renaissance," says Dr.B.J. Pandian, Director & Nodal Officer, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore. "This only proves that a remunerative income is the only way to retain or bring back youth into this fast-declining field.”
"Mere theory, oration or advice will never work with today's youth. They need to see and get convinced themselves. Once they get convinced they will easily pull others into it," sums up Dr. Pandian. (Source)
Zizira hopes to play a small part in improving returns to the farmers of Northeast of India by promoting their products and in the process unleashing the potential of family farms in Meghalaya. Would the number of farmers increase if we have a sustainable market for them?