The agriculture department’s scheme to encourage Goan farmers to grow more vegetables has paid good dividends. Following public concerns over rising vegetable prices, the department launched the ‘assured support’ scheme in 2011 to help local farmers market their vegetable produce, a scheme which was implemented through the Goa State Horticulture Corporation (GSHC). The GSHC procures 13 varieties of vegetables, the bulk of which consists of chilli, ladies’ fingers, cluster beans, brinjals and bottle gourds. The GSHC procurement of locally grown vegetables was a mere 14 tonnes in 2011-12. It has reached close to 600 tonnes in the last couple of years. The GSHC bought local vegetables worth over Rs 2 crore in 2017-18. The number of farmers supplying vegetables to the GSHC has also increased significantly. Their number was 123 in 2012-13; today it is 843. Most of the farmers who enrolled themselves with the government supply to the GSHC. But some of them supply to the open market on their own.
According to the provisions of the scheme, farmers are assured fixed procurement rates for vegetables. The rates are revised every fortnight. The GSHC pays local farmers 10 per cent more than what they would pay for the same vegetables in wholesale market in Belgavi. In case there is increase in the rates at the wholesale markets, the Goan farmers get enhanced rates. Farmers registered under the scheme are also provided high yielding variety seeds and fertilizers free of charge. They also get 90 per cent subsidy to buy irrigation equipment, provided they have a minimum of 500 metres of agricultural land. The farmers registered with the government have taken full advantage of the scheme, as their cost of production is reduced and the sale price is high, giving them a good margin. Besides, they find it convenient to sell to the GSHC which has 18 procurement centres across the state.
There has always been a good demand for locally grown vegetables, which command premium rates as compared to vegetables brought from the wholesale markets of Belgavi and other cities. Most of the Goan farmers are small and marginal. Those who grow vegetables sell their produce either by the roadside close to their fields or through vendors at the markets. Consumers prefer local vegetables as they are fresher than that from the wholesale markets. They are also less contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides than the vegetables bought from the wholesale markets. The remarkable increase in the supply of locally grown vegetables to the GSHC outlets and open markets is therefore good for the consumers. However, the farmers must keep making efforts to produce more – not by using chemical fertilizers and pesticides but by doing round-the-year cropping. There seems to be a significant drop-out among farmers. The number of farmers supplying local vegetables to the GSHC has declined from 1,261 in 2015-16 to 843 in 2017-18. No wonder that though the quantity of procurement of local vegetables has been increasing over the years, there is no consistency in the supplies by the farmers. Some farmers stop producing vegetables during the summer as there is shortage of water for irrigation. The agriculture and irrigation departments have to make a proactive intervention here, as the summer months cause shortage of water. The government should get the farmers to avail of the assistance for buying irrigation equipment such as drip irrigation to make water available throughout the year.
The agriculture department and the GSHC must try and bring back the over 200 farmers who withdrew from their scheme over the last two years. Where have they gone? Have they given up growing vegetables? Or have they switched over to the open markets? Or have they gone back to their old ways of selling in small quantities by the roadside or at the civic and panchayat markets? There is a huge demand for locally grown vegetables, and the government must do everything possible to increase the supply. It should not bother the government whether the farmers supply to the GSHC or not. After all, the ‘assured support’ scheme is meant to motivate and encourage local vegetable farmers produce more. The interest of the government lies in increasing vegetable production manifold. The agriculture department and GSHC must step up their efforts to motivate more and more farmers to produce vegetables. As most of the Goan farmers are small producers and do not have the means to transport and market their produce, they should be happy growing more vegetables if they can get a satisfactory price for their produce from the GSHC without the hassle of they or their wives or mothers sitting by the roadside to sell their produce.