The elated farming community will perhaps be tempted to raise Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on the pedestal for the range of benefits he has offered them. No chief minister in the State, even in spite of being a farmer in one case, had the conviction and courage to offer such proactive incentives to farmers. Parrikar has offered a minimum support price of Rs 17 per kilo for rice. He is right when he boasts that nowhere in the country a support price has been offered above Rs 11 for Goa’s staple crop.
While it is true that the Goa State Horticulture Corporation has been buying products from farmers, the fact remains that farmers’ profits have been dented due to the transportation costs. Ideally, a farmer-friendly approach would be if a government offered convenient “collection points” to farmers willing to sell their produce to the Corporation. Lately, there have been murmurs that some of these Corporation outlets have been selling the produce above the specified price, justifying that the produce is privately grown and therefore not routed through the Corporation. There is need for regular monitoring of these outlets to arrest the malpractices by the overambitious.
The government’s pronounced objective would fail if officers within the department are not adequately motivated and informed. There have been instances where officers’ promotions are delayed. Officers ought to be updated with latest technology and research in agriculture to boost production. This is sadly lacking in the department, what with instances where some officers are not aware of the various varieties of fruits and the process of identifying the diseases. There’s a definite need for greater cohesion between the Agriculture Department and ICAR in resolving farmer’s woes, particularly pertaining to diseases and poor growth.
Lately, the government has even been motivating farmers to enter floriculture farming, citing avenues in the hotel industry and events in the state as an easy outlet for business. The truth is that the floriculture parks in Poona have prospered because of their proximity to each other and easy access to airport, from where the best quality flowers are exported overseas ‘in bulk’. However in Goa, despite a ready local market, the price the Goan farmer will get is nowhere close to the ‘export quality’ premium flowers being exported from Poona. Moreover the export in bulk (which augments farmer’s profits) remains a question mark. The best flowers will be sold to local hotels for a small profit, while the best flowers in Poona will be exported for a handsome profit. This is the major difference!
In the enthusiasm to boost agriculture, Parrikar must also not lose sight of the fact that there are several pesticides, bio-fertilizers etc which are not available to local farmers. This is ironic that because at least three major producers exist in Goa. With the farming season commencing Parrikar ought to ensure that this anomaly is rectified.
Water is a vital component of agriculture and the government has rightly promoted various schemes in water conservation, including jal kund. There have been instances where officers have discouraged such activity under the guise of building a swimming pool, even questioning the need for such large reservoirs. Chorao Island is a classic case where the farming community has risen up against the perennial water shortage. It is believed that the soil strata of the island is hardly ideal for water retention, with aquifers level depleting soon after the monsoons. The government ought to order an exhaustive study on the nature of the soil and provide long term water solutions to the farmers of the area.
Needless to say, contract farming legislation must be speeded up, specially pertaining to tenanted land, when tenants have abandoned farming and the owners too deprived of their right to till the land. There are several aspiring farmers who are waiting in the wings to take the plunge, but are handicapped due to the tardy movement of government files in order to see that the contract farming is a reality. In the short term, goodies and support price are good, but in the long term a comprehensive coordinated master plan for agriculture by pooling expertise, resources and adoption of long term research studies by networking with overseas field scientists, cultivation of fallow and uncultivated private lands, augmenting of full potential of irrigation projects and strategies is necessary to make a substantial difference to the primary sector and to food security of the state, thereby reducing the State’s dependence on food import from neighbouring states.