Agriculture plays a vital role in India’s economy, the sector accounts for 15 per cent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and has over 58 per cent of rural households dependent on it. In a bid to revive agriculture growth and improve farm income, the Union budget 2016-17 focused on the farm sector. The finance minister raised the overall budget for the agriculture sector by over 44%, from Rs 24,909 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 35,984 crore in 2016-17. But despite all the efforts, agriculture growth rate in India seems to nosedive. In Goa we have seen that agriculture has been on a steady decline. In the mid-60’s, nearly 70 per cent of the Goan population was directly or indirectly involved in agriculture, today less than half choose to be in this profession.
So, why is it, despite the government allocating huge sums of money to the sector, and doling out farm subsidies to encourage farmers and farming, there are not many takers? It’s not rocket science to gauge, why Goans are leaving farming to take up white collar jobs in Gulf countries or onboard ships. The cost of cultivating fields is accelerating at a tremendous pace. To add to this, agricultural produce does not get its due price and farmers are being forced to decide between selling their land or to let it lie barren. There is no way for farmers to get out of this vicious cycle that they find themselves in.
I have ancestral fields in Taleigao, and cultivate around 12,000 plus square metres of land. In May 2011, I had applied for a subsidy for a well which I received only in March 2012 after a ten-month wait. For pumps, machinery, fencing etc a farmer has to wait between five to eight months to receive the subsidies. For me, agriculture is not my primary source of income and hence I was able to withstand the wait. But what about the marginal and small farmers? Who invest their money into their field and then have a long-wait to get the subsidy. This wait is like a cruel joke on them and they cannot prepare for the next sowing season.
While tractors are provided by the zonal office at a subsidized rate of Rs 250 per hour, machines necessary for bed preparation, grass cutting or harvesting are not provided. Such machines have to be bought by individual farmers’ for which subsidy is given after a long waiting period. But the question arises, is how can a marginal farmer afford to buy these machines even if a decent subsidy is given? And even if the farmer does manage to buy the machines, what does he do with the machines after using it for a couple of days during the sowing or harvesting season every year?
The woes of farmers don’t end here. With no office in Panjim, farmers from Tiswadi, have to travel to Ella Farm at Old Goa to do the paper work to avail subsidies. A farmer needs to have a certain minimum area of land, without which he/she is not eligible for subsidy. It is time the government reduce the minimum area of land so that more farmers’ can avail subsidies. The need of the hour is for the government to focus on the dying farming community, so that Goa can reduce its dependency on bringing in vegetables from neighboring states.
Political parties recently agreed to implement the Swaminathan Commission Report on Agriculture (pending for 10 years). If implemented, it will help farmers procure a minimum support price for agricultural produce ensuring 50% profit over the cost of production. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 2014 election campaign assured to implement the Swaminathan Commission Report but there has been silence on this front so far.
Builders and developers are taking advantage of the situation that farmers in Goa face. The housing boom in Goa has attracted popular builders from all across the country to pitch tent and grab a slice of the real-estate pie. With no proper field and open space protection in place in the state, most of the farm lands are going under the axe or are being shown as buildable spaces. The fields around Panjim have always acted as catchment areas for collecting rain or flood water during the heavy monsoons that hit the state, and so the city of Panjim, Panji or Ponji name was given meaning ,“land that never gets flooded.” Today, these very fields that protected the city of Panjim are under siege by developers. There is a spate of housing, way beyond the city’s capacity. The coconut orchards and paddy fields that once dotted the landscape are disappearing under concrete. Residents investing in these poorly prepared projects sanctioned by corrupt officials, will suffer the shortcomings years after.
I am reminded of Pete Seeger’s song, “Where have all the green fields gone? Long time passing. Where have all the green fields gone? Long time ago. Where have all the green fields gone? Fed the people every one. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”
Another menace going unnoticed is the dumping of sewage in open fertile fields. The greatest threat posed by the uncontrolled sewage dumping is its seepage into the water bodies, which can cause diseases such as E-coli, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Hepatitis A, and helminths.
It is time the Government put a halt to all this, otherwise it is not far away when the Prophecy of the Cree Native American Tribe —”Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will we find that money cannot be eaten,” may just come true.