By Bhasker Assoldekar*
For a long time in India urbanization centered around the four metros namely Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkatta. And when these cities faced pressures a second set of cities got into the urbanization mode.
Goa has been no exception. Cities like Panaji, Margao, have been already facing problems on resources in terms of space, consumption, movement of materials etc. If more and more people start moving towards these cities from the villages for jobs and greener pastures it is bound to create a mismatch.
Goa still lives and breathes through its villages in the central and eastern talukas. A significantly large portion (almost 55 per cent) of Goa’s population even now resides in these villages. It therefore becomes imperative to promote local rural agrarian business activity.
What is needed is to create a situation so that the migration from rural areas to urban areas comes down. Rather the situation should be such that people should find it worthwhile to shift themselves from towns and cities to rural areas because of realization of better opportunities there. In other words, migration from rural areas should not only get checked but overpopulated towns and cities should also get decongested.
The state’s rural development should not only be limited to construction of good infrastructure such as roads but also should be aimed at improving agricultural yields coupled with ease of farming. It has to be economical or else it would lead to the movement of people from rural areas seeking better livelihood.
During the last five decades agricultural activity in Goa has been on a steady decline. In mid sixties 70 per cent of Goan population was involved directly or indirectly in the agricultural activity. Area under paddy is reduced by more than 4000 hectares in the above period and despite the best efforts of local government 78 per cent of agriculture is rain fed with only 22 per cent getting covered under irrigation. As a consequence Goa is still heavily dependent on neighbouring states for food grains, cereals, vegetables and also the all important power supply.
Rural entrepreneurship today has lot of opportunities. Basic industries like food and agriculture, arts & handicrafts, production of renewable energy (in the form of briquettes), rural tourism etc are only a few opportunities.
What is needed in Goa is to create a situation so that the migration from rural areas to urban areas comes down. This can happen only by boosting rural economy. The use of agricultural technology and government initiatives need to move from production oriented to profit oriented sustainable farming. Schemes and government policies should therefore be oriented towards just one goal. And that is, how to increase the production multiple times without substantial deterioration of soil health?
While substantial work is done by the government by way of subsidies and other schemes, it needs to do the following to retain the farmer in the village (obviously he will continue his agricultural activity only if there is enough money in the activity). Availability of all inputs including hybrid seeds, pest control pheromones, weedicides etc. should be channelized and made available at modest rates.
Agricultural scientists, on request, should be available at the farms rather than in their taluka headquarters ( like doctors visiting the patient in the good old days.) This approach by itself can be a game changer.
Farmer also needs to be provided with various machinery for ploughing, planting, weeding & harvesting. This should be done at a nominal rent with proper maintenance. Labour has become very costly and it is economically non viable to grow commercial crops without mechanization.
Special incentives should be provided for plantation of traditional Goan fruits which are fast becoming extinct from Goan markets. The farmer also needs marketing support. There is a need for government to build a farmer- buyer inter-phase in every town where farmers can bring their seasonal products and potential buyers could buy them directly.
Build ecologically friendly selling outlets with shade on either side of the main/arterial roads all across Goa and offer them to the vendors at nominal rent. Such outlets would help preserve the products better and help them do business in more friendly conditions. This way rural farmers will not only have access to local buyers but even tourists will have access to Goan products. Imagine the size and potential of the market if a few more Goan agricultural products like alsande( Goan rajma) become as popular as cashew nuts all over India!
While we continue to grow traditional vegetables, for some of the others like cauliflower, tomatoes, cabbage, carrots etc. we are still dependent on Belgaum! We need to provide the technology to our farmers so that we are not dependent heavily for vegetables from outside. Other area is to ensure that farmer’s children too take up that profession. And this, to me, is much more challenging proposition. His children will continue only if there is respectability in the profession. They should be therefore offered degrees/ diplomas of Goa University in agricultural science and these students should be offered various incentives to take up various agricultural courses with on field practical training using machines.
Cold storages to improve shelf life of agricultural produce is the need of the day. A couple of plants to produce briquettes of bio fuel ( renewable energy) in rural areas should also be considered. It is time, we Goans realize that the only way to retain its unique identity is by economically strengthening the rural Goa .The desertion of villages for “greener pastures” is not the right step in that direction. Goa’s future and its economic development with Goenkarponn lies in villages.
In the words of my Guru, C. K. Prahlad, “Fortune lies at the bottom of the Pyramid”.