Goa is a land of small farmers and they have not got the kind of incentives the small farmers in states like Maharashtra have been given by their government. The decline in Goan agriculture is squarely blamed upon the farmers, with the government giving itself a clean chit. Innovative models of farming by small farmers in Maharashtra have transformed their lives. In contrast, the Goa government does have schemes to support farmers but they have been traditional types and utterly lacking in innovation as far as organization of farming is concerned. Recently farmers complained about the government not encouraging exports of their produce. Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardessai wants farmers to get into exports. The government’s Promotion of Export Quality Vegetable Scheme, according to him, will take care of the labour cost as high labour cost is a major hurdle in agricultural growth.
However, he needs to tackle the main problems faced by farmers. It is easy to blame the younger generations of farming families who shun agriculture. But anyone criticizing them should put themselves in their place and see the world from their viewpoint. The problem is scale and profitability. That is why agriculture has ceased to be a very important economic activity in Goa. The market has been taken over by vegetables and other agricultural products imported from neighbouring states. It is often heard that children of farmers followed in their fathers’ footsteps, but spread of education has made them go for white and blue collar jobs. Other economic activities emerged such as hospitality and retail emerged as avenues for employment. Agriculture was abandoned by farmers who converted their fields and sold them to builders. Though the government took many steps to promote agriculture and announced several schemes, agriculture continues to decline.
The government would need to make concerted efforts to revive interest and bring back the farmers to the fields. A scheme to promote vegetable cultivation launched by the Goa State Horticulture Corporation led to huge increase in vegetable production from mere 8 tonne in 2011 to 375 tonne in 2015. The scheme is interlinked with the marketing of the produce of the farmers at GSHC outlets in the state. Though only 120 farmers registered themselves under the scheme initially, their number touched a thousand later. With added facilities and incentives it can reach a much higher figure. The government needs to take a cue from the success of the scheme and see that the future schemes are easy for adoption by farmers and implementation by government agencies. Cumbersomeness faced by farmers in accessing benefits has been one of the reasons for farmers to not avail them. The government needs to remove the hurdles faced by the farmers and make the schemes farmer friendly.
Though the government has been talking of promoting contract farming, the law to facilitate such a venture is yet to be enacted. There are about 13,000 hectares of fallow land in the state that could be brought under cultivation to increase agricultural output. Goa is blessed with different land forms, water bodies and climate, which are conducive for growth of cereals and plantation crops, fruits, vegetables, flowers, dairy farming, etc. Right steps, easily implementable and acceptable schemes, incentives and laws to protect the interest of land owners can help the state to give a push to agriculture. The state needs to attract youth to the agriculture. Goa needs to follow the Maharashtra model where ‘producer companies’ of farmers are achieving wonders. Farmer companies are associations of farmers, which are somewhere between a cooperative and a company. It is not a cooperative in the sense that only farmers can be members and no politician or outsider is allowed to be a member or official. Cooperatives have been destroyed by the domination of politicians. A producer company is also not a company in the sense that it has to follow the laws of the land relating to companies. But a producer company is run professionally like a company in which small farmers are not only workers but also shareholders. They share the profit but also use a part of the earnings for expenditure on land development, buying of equipment and marketing. The Goa government should promote producer companies in Goa as it is a land of small farmers. Once the small farmers see the benefit, there would be producer companies across Goa that will not only produce vegetables for Goa but also for export.