What happens if next-generation farmers move away from farming in an agrarian economy? This question came up during a Zizira field visit where the team met with farmers who have been following farming as that is what their parents did.
"Meghalaya is basically an agricultural state with about 80% of its population depending entirely on agriculture for their livelihood" says Wikepedia
A team of two visited Umlyngka village in East Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya in the last week of April 2015. We bring you their first-hand report - on the fruits and vegetables that grow there and a hard working lady farmer they met.
Next Generation Farmers - Opting Out of Farming?
Weeding, loosening the soil, pulling out dry leaves – an elderly lady farmer was working with loving care. She told the team that she follows only organic farming methods. Her farm had onion, coriander, potatoes, French beans and fenugreek. She was growing vegetables for her own consumption and sells only the excess if any. Her distress was evident when she said:
My family is not interested in farming! My daughters and other family members prefer to work as wage workers or sell things in the market rather than tend to the farm
The team also met with a couple who had moved to Umlyngka village from West Khasi Hills. Farming is the only vocation they know and they love it, having grown up working on farms. They were growing a variety of vegetables like Fenugreek, Coriander (Cilantro), Lettuce, Potatoes and Onion.
Unlike this farmer couple who grew up working on the fields and continue to farm for a living, the present generation seems to be moving away. Given a choice they prefer other jobs is what the team heard from the farmers they met in Umlyngka. Perhaps because the next generation farmers have seen their parents toil long hours without adequate returns?
Another interesting factor - Meghalaya has a number of good schools and colleges, even in the remotest of places. Hence children get a good education and not surprising that they tend to look for other opportunities. Ironic is it not? Farmers want their children to get a good education, but once educated their children, who could have been next generation farmers, lose interest in farming?
How to Retain the Rich Agricultural Heritage of Northeast India?
Meghalaya, as other states in Northeast India, has a rich agricultural heritage. It is endemic to unique herbs, fruits and vegetables. Is it not important that the art of farming, that has come down generations and has been sustaining the economy, be preserved?
Therefore, is it not important that the next generation farmers feel motivated enough to pursue agriculture as a livelihood and retain and pass on the learning they get from their families? If the farmer community were to be given support to market their produce, will things be different? Questions that need to be addressed.
Do you have thoughts or insights? We would love to hear from you. Please write in. Talking of endemic, we need to tell you about the wild Raspberries that the team saw, plucked and tasted!
The Rasberries were growing wild. This came as a pleasant surprise as these fruits are not available in the local market. Obviously they are endemic to the region and what they saw were totally organic too!
Cannot afford to own land? Rent it
The Zizira team made an interesting observation during this field visit - small and marginal farmers in Umlyngka village who can’t afford to own land rent small plots! The rents are reasonable. The zeal in them to be able to farm at any cost was obvious. What a pity that children of farmers owning bigger plots who could have become second generation farmers are shying away while there are many who want to do nothing but farm!
The Zizira team noticed that 5 or 6 farmers shared a large plot collectively, each having rented their own parcel of land. In fact the farmer couple we have referred to in the above para too had rented a plot of 5000 Sq. Ft. and they pay Rs. 2000 as rent annually. A member of the Zizira team said:
This was such a beautiful sight – they share the same water source – where water flows from one mini-farm to another! The only drawback is that when one or two of this group use chemicals, the others too could get the effect through shared irrigation.
Zizira hopes to play a small part in improving returns to farmers of northeast of India by promoting their produce through our blog post and by reaching some of their unique products to other parts of India through an eCommerce portal. Want to buy high-quality agricultural produce of Northeast India? Maybe the turmeric they grow, with high curcumin content? or Dried organic ginger? or speciality teas are grown organically?
We are in the process of setting up systems to reach such produce to you from the farms of the very people who grow them. Do you want to know about the plans of the Government of Meghalaya and the Govt. of India to promote organic farming? Do you know anyone pursuing organic farming anywhere in India and doing well? Would you like to share their story? Please Contact us