(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 10, 2011
Emerging Challenges in Agriculture & Allied
Sectors in North East India
THE Vigyan Prasar, department of science and technology, government of Tripura and the All India People’s Science Network jointly organised a workshop on ‘Emerging Challenges in Agriculture and Allied Sectors in North-East’ from March 27-29, 2011 in Agartala, Tripura. Manik Sarkar, chief minister, Tripura inaugurated the workshop. Aghore Deb Barman, agriculture minister, Tripura, Subodh Mahanti, Vigyan Prasar, Dinesh Abrol, convener, Agriculture sub committee of AIPSN and Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary, All India Kisan Sabha and Satyanarayana, principal secretary, Agriculture addressed the inaugural session. Inaugurating the workshop, Manik Sarkar emphasised that the peasantry in the region was adversely affected by the neo-liberal economic policies and agriculture was increasingly becoming unviable due to the high input costs arising out of the pro-monopoly policies pursued by the central government. Even when there is talk of an ‘Evergreen Revolution’ most of the North Eastern states were being kept outside the purview of efforts in this direction as well as the programmes under the National Food Security Mission, he said and called for an united effort by all the North Eastern states to press for the agricultural development in the region. The Keynote address was delivered by renowned ecologist and Professor Emeritus, JNU, P S Ramakrishnan who spoke on ‘Understanding the Ecological Dimension of Agricultural Systems in North Eastern Region’. Agricultural scientists, academics, policy makers, farmers, NGOs and peasant organisations from six states attended the workshop.
The workshop deliberated on the challenges faced by agriculture and allied sectors in the North East with the following aims:
· to establish a network of farmers’ field schools, rural labour group enterprises and women SHGs for the introduction and diffusion of ecologically and socially just practices of sustainable agriculture
· formulate a plan for the preparation and production of learning materials for cultivators and rural labour
· deliberate on the policy interventions to be undertaken for advocacy on the subject with the central and state governments and
· plan for a jatha for environment building to be taken up with the help of the network proposed to be set up for the diffusion of the idea of establishment of farmers’ field schools, rural labour group enterprises and women SHGs in the states of North East.
A field trip was organised for the delegates to the paddy fields where the system of rice intensification (SRI) is being practiced and to the land developed and handed over to the tribal people as well as other traditional forest dwellers under the Forest Rights Act. Under the SRI with better agronomic practices, Tripura has managed to enhance productivity sustainably and 76,000 hectares of cultivable paddy lands have been brought under this method of cultivation. This is 31 per cent of total paddy area. More than 7 lakh farmers are engaged in this method of cultivation. In 2011-12, it is to be expanded to one lakh hectares. This system has enhanced productivity from the 3 tonnes/hectare under conventional method to more than 5 tonnes/hectare. Some farmers have also managed to get around 9 tonnes/hectare. The policy of developing seed villages and certified seed growers or seed guarantors has also ensured that Tripura which was dependent on outside agencies for paddy seeds is now seed surplus as far as high yielding varieties of paddy is concerned and also exporting to other states.
Under the Forest Rights Act, an area of about 1, 77,000 hectares has been distributed to 1,17,000 tribal beneficiaries. While a part of this land will be brought under zero tillage for agriculture a large part is being developed with horticultural crops to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities to the beneficiaries. This will retain their symbiotic relationship with the forest and also ensure their socio-economic development while conserving the ecological balance of the area. The Tripura government has taken up a programme to develop the lands given to tribals and other traditional forest dwellers under the FRA with horticultural crops like guava, papaya, pineapple, mango intercropped with leguminous crops which naturally fix nitrogen and providing irrigation facilities. Bamboo cultivation is also being encouraged on these lands. Tripura has been acclaimed for its excellent effort at implementation of the FRA. The delegates from other North Eastern states were impressed by the unique initiatives of the Tripura government on these fronts.
Representatives from the AIKS, the All Mizoram Farmers’ Union, the Naga Farming Association, Gana Mukti Parishad, Rashtriya Gramin Viksa Nidhi, Manipur Rongmei Naga Baptist Association, Manipur Kisan Sabha attended the workshop. The representatives of the Naga Farming Association traveled all the way from Tuensang in eastern Nagaland by road and reached Agartala after six days to take part in the workshop. The organic products like soyabean, rajma, jobs-tear, millets and ginger cultivated by them were also brought and exhibited. The huge size of the Nadia ginger evoked curiosity from all the delegates and the Tripura horticulture department took the Naga delegates for a live demonstration of their cultivation method at the research station.
Another important highlight of the workshop concerned experience sharing by the people’s science movement (PSM) groups on bio-farming, non-pesticide management of crops like cotton and chilly. The delegates deliberated on the challenges facing the ICAR, agricultural universities and government departments. The response offered by the ICAR scientists, agricultural universities and government departments to the proposals made on the basis of experience of PSM experiments was extremely positive. It was heartening to note that they were ready to collaborate with the farmers’ organisations and people’s science movements to build a movement which is active on the ground for the introduction of location-specific practices of sustainable agriculture.
The workshop recommended that in order to institutionalise the practices of sustainable agriculture, it would be worthwhile for the state governments and local self-governing institutions to switch to area based development strategies. The state governments were called upon to take to strategies that are ecologically and socially just and sustainable and are embedded in the area specific common action plan. The workshop asked the state governments to develop area development based plans that also integrate the components based on the goal of meeting the local demands of nutrition, food self-sufficiency, sustainability and exportability within the North Eastern region. It was noted that if the true aspirations of peoples are to be currently addressed by the governments, the efforts of all line departments/developmental agencies should be coherently integrated. In the twelfth Five Year plan the state governments were advised to work on the basis of an integrated agenda for agriculture and allied sectors. The governments were asked to give up on the mindset of working in silos. It was noted that to bring this change in their mindset the Governments should forbid the line departments from working separately. They should make the departments to work on mainly those targets that have been derived from collectively prepared area development based plans. Inter-sectoral linkages should be built up by strengthening the process of preparation of area specific action plan and by abandoning the practice of depending on a individually worked out department wise target for that area. It was noted that as rural development department is at the moment shouldering the responsibility of rural development but in essence it is not working on the basis of area based development plans in most of the North Eastern states. The governments should ensure the incorporation of components as per the people’s demands from the sectors of agriculture/horticulture/ARDD/ fisheries etc while framing an action plan for a specific area. In the event of selection of beneficiaries, a line department as an experimental basis should have the freedom to choose 25 per cent of beneficiaries for developing demonstration plots / units in that area so that a comparative study with regards to the applicability and utility of this approach can be made.
It is further planned to collaborate with the ICAR and universities and government departments to build a movement which is active on the ground for the introduction of location-specific practices of sustainable agriculture. It has been decided to hold another workshop on shifting cultivation and redeveloped jhum in June involving practicing Jhumias from the different North Eastern states. State-wise workshops are also planned to disseminate the recommendations of the workshop. A jatha programme is planned in 2012 to take forward the suggestions of the workshop. The workshop undoubtedly was a significant beginning. The gains have to be consolidated and efforts have to be made to disseminate the best practices to the widest possible sections of the cultivating peasantry. The proposed workshop on shifting cultivation and redeveloped jhum as well as state-wise workshops and development of learning materials in regional languages and its dissemination is a step forward in the direction of promoting sustainable agricultural practices and making agriculture viable in the North East.