Former chief minister and Congress MLA from Navelim Luizinho Faleiro has proposed a law for conservation of agricultural land by preventing sale of agricultural land to non-agriculturists. Revenue Minister Rohan Khaunte has promised that the government would prohibit sale of agricultural land to non-agriculturists and introduce a bill for the purpose in the monsoon session of the Assembly due to begin later this month. The legislation is aimed at protecting agricultural land and stopping sale of agricultural land to non-Goans. Though for years politicians across the board have been talking of conservation of agricultural land for posterity, no party came out with concrete measures to prevent sale of agricultural land to non-agriculturists. Sale of agricultural land over the years has resulted in large scale conversions for construction and other purposes. Land under cultivation has been declining over decades also owing to abandoning of agriculture by landowning families. If no serious efforts are made to conserve agricultural land, hardly any land would be left for farming in the years ahead. The only solace has been that land under cashew crop has been increasing as it gives better return to the farmers compared to other agricultural activities.
Today 25 per cent of the state’s population sustains itself by agriculture, which contributes about 16 per cent to the state gross domestic product. At the time of Liberation over 50 per cent of the state population was engaged in agriculture. The number has been falling continuously since then. If corrective steps are not taken the number could go down further. Around 78 per cent of agricultural land in Goa is still rain-fed; irrigation is insufficient for round-the-year cultivation. Commercial farming in the state is ruled out as 80 per cent of land holdings are below 2 hectares. Costly labour and poor yield have been contributing factors for decline in agriculture. Rapid urbanization witnessed over the last four decades has also been one of the contributing factors for decline in agricultural activity. The farmers gave up farming with a hope to convert the land for non-agricultural purposes to gain a good price for their land.
Though the state government has many schemes to help farmers, not all are able to avail of them. Vast tracts of agricultural land have changed hands and even large-sized plots have been left uncultivated for years together as farmers feel agriculture is no more remunerative. Huge tracts of agricultural land have been acquired by land speculators and left fallow to facilitate its conversion for non-agricultural purposes. Buildings have come up on agricultural land, which was facilitated by successive governments that allowed massive conversion of land. Despite shrinking of agricultural land the agriculture department has been consistently claiming that land under cultivation has been increasing year after year; it was only after the bluff was called that ‘mechanical’ increase was stopped. The state has been dependent on agricultural imports from neighbouring states to meet the demand of the local population. Every time a crisis is witnessed in the state due to various factors, including unrest among farmers of the neighbouring states, the local authorities speak of promoting agriculture on wider scale not only to meet local demand but also to export local produce. Such announcements have remained verbal and no steps have been taken to put them to practice.
Agriculture Minister Vijay Sardesai announced a year ago that the government will redraft agriculture policy with a focus on Goan agriculture produce, floriculture, contract farming and community farming. The government’s proposal to allow contract farming in order to give a boost to agriculture is yet to be fleshed out, and no takers for it appear to be in sight. It has to be seen how contract farming is going to pan out for farmers in the long run. The immediate need is to conserve agriculture land. Now that the government and the opposition appear to be on the same page on the prevention of agricultural land to non-agriculturists, as Rohan Khaunte’s promise and Luizinho Faleiro’s proposal would suggest, we can hope the consensus would help enact a law to prohibit sale of agricultural land to non-agriculturists to ensure that agricultural land is not converted for non-agricultural purposes. Along with this protective legislation, the government should also speedily finalize agricultural policy, so that farmers get the benefit of government schemes and are enthused about the government working towards revival of agriculture. Small sizes of agricultural plots need not hold up agricultural development in the state. Farmers of small plots can be brought together in an entity which can undertake commercial cultivation with fair, transparent and equitable cost- and profit-sharing.