It was a refreshing sight to see politicians – ministers and MLAs – descending to the fields and muddying their hands with the rich Goan soil, even as the rains poured down and drenched the land. While the politicians might have done it as a challenge put to them on the social media, the act should hopefully lead to a greater awareness of the importance of agriculture, boosting the sector, and not just used as a photo-op to temporarily gain brownie points on the internet and then be forgotten. As pointed out by Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardesai, the real challenge lies in bringing the uncultivated land under farming again.
According to the minister there are 40000 hectares of land supposedly under paddy cultivation of which 50 per cent remains uncultivated. If Goa is to meet its self-imposed deadline of becoming self sustainable in agriculture by 2022 then all this land, and perhaps more, will have to be brought under cultivation. Past statistics have shown that the area under agriculture is dropping, so reversing the trend and achieving self sustainability in agriculture will be no easy task. We are exactly a month away from the first harvest feast, the year 2022 is not too distant in the future, and another agricultural season may just have been wasted, so whereby the State could have taken steps to meet this target.
Goa’s sudden love for the land and agriculture got a start last Saturday when Goencho Avaaz held a programme titled ek dis xetan (a day in the field), whereby the activists took a break from sloganeering or petitioning to join the farmer in the fields, work alongside them, drink pez (canji) and then give lessons to youngsters on farming and agriculture. Anyone who was worried that activists were always treading the negative path by opposing government policies and programmes can now change their opinion to a positive one. Farming, has got a boost, but hopefully this will last and not be momentarily.
Even as in Goa the politicians are getting into the agriculture challenge, the Centre announced a bonanza to farmers offering the highest ever minimum support price for 14 Kharif crops, including paddy, cotton, pulses and coarse cereals. The increase in the minimum support price is an immediate relief and the Centre announced that there are several measures taken as part of its goal of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022. This is something endorsed by State Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, who welcomed the increase in the support price and said it is necessary if farmers’ income is to be doubled. If farmers can be enticed with a higher income, it is just possible that the land under cultivation can be increased.
Agriculture needs farmer-friendly initiatives more than politicos getting into the fields for a few hours. The sector in Goa has been largely ignored by successive governments, who looked at the land more as a commodity for sale and development. This government has shown the enterprise to improve the sector, but the results will of course take time to be visible. In the meantime all that the farmer can do its take the plough and sickle into his hands, or employ the tractor to plough the field, and the harvesting machine to gather the produce, and wait for the minimum support price to meet the costs of farming. Doubling the income is still distant, the breakeven or the marginal profit is what is now expected. For its not an hour or a day in the field that makes one a farmer, but a lifetime of working with the soil that does.