01 Oct 2023  |   05:43am IST

Need for a robust Agriculture Policy for Goa to preserve its farms and villages against decline

Goa has been primarily an agrarian society, with a huge chunk of population traditionally living in the rural areas. But with every passing decade, the demographics of Goa is also changing. Today, barely 24 percent of Goa’s population resides in the villages. There is rapid urbanisation, leading to shrinking of the agriculture sector. Besides, the population is growing, leading to an increase in the demand of agricultural commodities. At the same time, the climate is changing and the productive land is stagnated. Crores of rupees are lost in extreme climate events. These emerging challenges mandate a visionary Agriculture Policy that would combine traditional farming practices with modern technologies to boost productivity. But Goa lacks a proper policy that would spell out the agenda for transforming the State’s farming sector and making it more resilient to the growing pressures. In the weekly Herald TV debate Point-Counterpoint, SUJAY GUPTA evaluates the lack of a sound agro policy and its long-term impact on the coastal State and its people
Need for a robust Agriculture Policy for Goa to  preserve its farms and villages against decline

Our basic identity is linked to the soil on which we were born and raised and it’s linked to our future. Very rarely does a subject that encompasses the past present and the future as the subject of land and agriculture, which at one point of time was intrinsic to the way of life and living of Goa. It was a part of our past to the part of our growing up peers and it was a part of the Goa that we all knew and loved.

For many of us, life in villages is the way we have seen Goa, including people who are now living in urbanised villages like Candolim and in Calangute amongst other locations.

But ultimately, let us not forget that the roots of all our existence and living, especially in rural Goa, has been full of khazan lands, forests, backwaters, fishing, growing multiple crops. These are things that almost seem like an absolute dream that we can only think of in storybooks and that’s exactly what’s going to happen in many villages, if we are not careful.

We are now at a crossroads, where Goa doesn’t even have a proper policy to dictate the manner in which our agricultural activities have to be carried out. It does not have a strong document and a strong vision to essentially tell us the way forward, so that we can preserve our farmlands or khazan lands, ensure that crops are grown properly and also prevent taking over of agriculture farms by the land sharks.

These are issues that can obviously happen, but if there is a vision, then it needs to be documented. Goa has been fighting for an Agriculture Policy for a very long time. Lip service has certainly been made, committees have been formed. The committee headed by former MP Narendra Savaikar was formed to essentially look into the ways and means to draft a policy. That again has been left hanging for various reasons. Now, the government has of course made a tiny step forward by asking for suggestions from people so that an Agriculture Policy could be drafted. This again was due to a very strong people’s movement. 

But on July 14, the government asked for suggestions to be given by August 16, barely a month and two days. It was impossible for the whole of Goa to meet, discuss, assimilate their thoughts and come up with suggestions within 32 days. The government then extended the deadline for sending suggestions by a little margin, till September 16. That day too has come and gone.

The people are now reacting by saying that, if the government is really interested in knowing from them what their future should be, then they should be given more time to discuss and deliberate.

On Monday, the panchayats across will be meeting. There will be a special gram sabha. The government has also at this point of time said that it would include a discussion on the Agriculture Policy as one of the major issues to be taken up. Some panchayats have put it in their agenda while some haven’t. 

This discussion won’t just look into the Agriculture Policy, but also focus on what needs to be in that policy and beyond for us to have sustainable agriculture, a way of life, an ecosystem, which is sustainable beyond the policy. 

So, other issues like management of khazan lands, our wetlands and how the youth can come back to agriculture to take the whole battle forward or take the preservation mantra forward will also be analysed.

There aren’t many young people working on the farms these days to carry on their traditional legacy. Community farming is gone almost completely, because earlier the community used to get together and farm. 

Go to each other’s fields. That has now been replaced by migrant labourers, which is completely leading to degradation of farming because young people are just not there and the older people are getting older. There are multiple issues that need to be addressed.

“Farming in Goa is a way of life. We should not look at farming as any other commercial activity or a livelihood. It is a way of life that continues like a 24-hour cycle from morning to night. Therefore, we are looking at a policy that focuses on the future needs. We have to create a vision, with focus on the main actors,” Prof Elsa Fernandes, Chairperson of Khazan Society, said.

“That is the reason why when we all got together and we discussed this threadbare, all the time the focus was on the farmer, for his crop and his land. So this comes through and in every discussion and we want that these three points be highlighted and should be the main focus of the policy,” Fernandes said.

Speaking about government decision to seek suggestions from the community regarding the Agriculture Policy, Jack Mascarenhas, President of Goyeche Fudle Pilge Khatir (GFPK) said, “The government came out with this circular on July 14, asking farmers, farmers groups, farmers societies and general public to send their suggestions/inputs for the formation of Agriculture Policy for the State of Goa via e-mail by August 16. They wanted the suggestion from the public, but they were not doing anything about it right till end of the July.”

“We were waiting for government authorities or someone else to come up with something or make some noise to create awareness. Nothing happened till the first week of August. Also, nobody was talking about it. So we were a little suspicious. Then we thought of trying to do something,” Mascarenhas said.

“Then we tried to get the people who were good in that particular field. We got them to study the policy and then we realised it was not an easy task to give suggestions. We needed data first. And to have data, we needed to do research, for which we needed time. August 16 was the last day and there wasn’t any talk of an Agriculture Policy,” he said.

“Earlier also in 2012, they had come up with something and suddenly there was nothing about it. Somehow, they’re also keeping it as a grey area. We can see the corporate sector is trying to eliminate the small and middle scale farmers. So here we are trying to emphasise on community farming,” he said. 

Mascarenhas said that once community farming comes, the corporate would be eliminated and there won’t be any middlemen. The consumers will get connected directly with the farmers. 

“Now in this Agriculture Policy, we are trying to emphasise only on community farming and going to explain what are the benefits. A farmer individually produces nine tons of onion in one hectare of land. Then, with help of a micro-credit facility, a group is formed and all on the same land, they produce 22 ton. So, there are so many benefits as a community,” he said. 

When asked why there wasn’t any focus on having a policy for so many years, Amancio Fernandes, former Deputy Director of Agriculture, said that Goa’s limited land resource is under tremendous pressure from different sectors. It could be from industry, housing construction or other activities.

“If we look at the agriculture sector, we will find that out of 3.6 lakh hectares of land, not even 50 percent (1.6 lakh hectares) is under cultivation. The remaining land remains fallow. Now, when this policy was thought of in 2012, we said look, let us profile it so that we can have land use in place and based on that, we will be able to classify land and re-preserve it. In our organisation we call it now, freeze it and lock it,” he said.

“So, this pre-exercise of identifying and mapping the areas was not in place. The policy did not have the fuel to really run. I feel there was no political will and there was lack of technical backup to support it. Now we have GIS-based mapping and so many other things, with which things can instantly happen,” the former Deputy Director of Agriculture said.

“Now we are feeling the pressure even more because of the need for our self-sufficiency. We are depending on Karnataka for vegetables, milk and fruits. But even during the earlier times without the policy, our firms were better managed because the panchayats had more authority and there was less interference. That’s my experience,” he said.

Prof Elsa Fernandes said that the Comunidade in Goa is already governed as a collective. The basic nature of administration was collective. That system was effectively working,” she said. 

 As far as the Comunidades are concerned, they were certainly doing things effectively. Now the issue is that they themselves are defunct in most places. Also the other thing is that the Comunidade had money. From those funds, they would give subsidies for tilling machines and other facilities. Now the body itself is deformed and it doesn’t have money. This actually means, now most of the villages are dependent on the MLAs to support them.

The former Deputy Director of Agriculture said, “We used to auction this land, which fetched revenue for our Comunidade. Now the Tenancy Act has come in.”

What are the main things that should happen in the different panchayats and gram sabhas regarding the Agriculture Policy? What should be there in the policy which is of importance?

J Santano Rodrigues, Chairman of Curtorim Biodiversity Management Committee (BMC) said that the most important requirement today is decentralisation or devolution of power.

“Decentralisation of power for panchayats is necessary. Nearly 35 years ago, when sarpanchas used to collectively work together. The Comunindade management has been done away with and the tenant association also slowly ceased to exist and today, we don’t have any power. When it comes to agriculture, the powers should be with the Zonal Agriculture Office (ZAO) and not the mamlatdar,” Rodrigues said. 

“There are so many different departments and the farmers are lost. One great example is the farmers of Maina-Curtorim. They still work together without any support from the government. They have a proper management fully owned by them. Now the government is interfering in this. If there is an association the government asks them to form clubs and then divide the association, therefore these associations should be strong,” he said. 

Now the point is you can have Community farming provided there are farmlands. The issue is that the total number of farmlands is shrinking and hence, there is no scope to have a Comunidade Fund. That’s one aspect. 

Second aspect is that earlier in Goa earlier we used to grow three crops not too long ago. The Command Area Development scheme was launched as an integrated programme, involving both irrigation and agricultural activities to assist farmers in land, water and crop management. The whole scheme was created just to ensure that you at least have the third crop.

Now what is happening is that, as far as the third crop is concerned, water which was preserved and accumulated either through sluice gates, used to be released in the month of November, after the second crop, so that the third crop was possible. Now this water is not getting released in November. It is getting released in January. As a result of which, the third crop is not possible. 

Thirdly the issue is that there is no effort to think differently and move out and get into other kind of crops which would give better friend better benefits. 

According to Rodrigues, there is a need for market. The government gets rice from outside Goa. Nobody thinks about the farmers, they give a subsidy and that is the end of the story. 

“For example, they give us Rs 10. But we end up spending Rs 20 because of the things brought from outside. Because of this, middlemen have emerged. The middle man should be removed and everyone should come together as a community. Secondly the farmers should have love for the soil and protect their ‘goemkarponn’,” he said.

“There should be love for the land. Farmers are stressed because they have no money and this could cause problems. Also, who runs the government? It’s not the farmers, because no one listens to them,” Rodrigues lamented.

Prof Elsa Fernandes said that during Portuguese time, the Bondvol lake in St Cruz provided water to serve the need of growing three crops.

“There were two concerns at that point of time. Like in 1901, drinking water and irrigation of crops were the only requirements and therefore that investment was done to support the crop. The third crop also was included in that system. So, we need not look at community systems only. These were village systems,” Fernandes said.

“They’re very village specific and if you have this kind of arrangement. But to say that the control for releasing water lies with some authority, is wrong. It is with the community,” she said.

But shouldn’t there be a proper discussion with the Agriculture department and stakeholders, before taking any decision regarding conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes?

“Yes. In fact, this is a very strong point which has come from farmers in all our discussions. One of the highlights which the farmer is now forcing on onto us and therefore suggested to the government is that if it is agricultural land, then it should be saved for that purpose. Therefore, now we are not looking at an Agriculture Policy. We have to look into the controls and powers of another department which regulates land use,” Prof Fernandes said.

“So far, we have always seen that land use has been controlled by some system. But lately, we are seeing dilution of that system, without any public participation. This has kind of deteriorated and the system. The impact is on the farmer and then we call it as development,” she said.

“Right now, we have to also consider agriculture as definition of development. When we see this thing holistically, only then we will be able to understand what the farmer is trying to tell us,” she said.

Another issue the future of khazan lands, which are literally in the ICU and struggling to survive. Now how important is protection of khazans?

“It is very important. I think if you ask for any khazan farmer, they are far better equipped to understand the implications of climate change. The farmer is very good at his experiential knowledge. He will tell you where the water was in which year and when the levels rose and receded. His understanding of the ground realities regarding effects of climate change can become even better with the help of whatever research is happening globally,” Prof Fernandes said.

Now the issue here is that, for the first time in many years, we are looking at a proper citizens’ movement, especially on agriculture. So, what is it all about and what has been the response, especially from the youth and what is the role that they’re going to play in ensuring that Goa has a proper policy?

Jack Mascarenhas, President of Goyeche Fudle Pilge Khatir (GFPK) said that the association are trying to understand the ground situation.

“After speaking to the farmers and other stakeholders, we are trying to analyse the conditions. Now, I was exploring the report of 2019. Goa had 1.41 lakh hectares of cultivable area in 2014. The report of 2019 says that only 31,000 hectares is cultivated right now,” Mascarenhas said.

“Just try to understand there was a time our ancestors were cultivating this entire 1.41 lakh hectare land and there was no electricity or modern machinery. How could they do it?” he asked.

“So, there is something we are missing. One factor is, there was a sense of community and collective effort was there in the past, which is missing now. Some may argue that time they weren’t many job opportunities compared to today’s scenario. But that is not a bigger picture,” Mascarenhas said. 

“The bigger picture is we have been conditioned so deeply that we are made to understand that money is everything. But if we go little deeper, we will realise that money is not everything. We need money for survival, for our basic needs. Freedom is the highest goal and that freedom is what our children are going to lose,” he added.  

It is clearly evident that lack of a robust Agriculture Policy, in the face of mounting challenges, is a recipe for disaster in the long run. Government must not sit on the faces and do only lip service. It has to get serious in protecting our farms, which will in turn save our villages and of course our State as a whole. There is far greater seriousness needed for the government to preserve our farm sector.

It has to come out with a policy that will futuristic and look at solutions on the biggest challenge for our farmers, which is how to produce more from less for more. 


Idhar Udhar