Reinvent Goan Farmer

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Goa can be a significant organic   producer by aggregating small farms

IN order to boost farm production, the state government has announced a draft agriculture policy. The draft policy, which was tabled in the budget session of the Assembly by Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavlekar focuses on “land reforms,” agriculture research, development of agricultural infrastructure, creating markets for farm produce and introducing agriculture as a subject right from the primary level of education. One of the land reforms proposed in the draft policy envisages taking back the land if the land allotted to the tiller under the Agricultural Tenancy Act is left fallow.  The revenue department and the directorate of panchayats would be tasked with the identification of the fallow lands allotted under the Tenancy Act so as to facilitate takeover of the same for cultivation and leasing it to interested farmers or farmers’ clubs. The Agricultural Tenancy Act will have to be suitably amended to bring the fallow lands under cultivation.

The policy has been framed in accordance with the central government policy to open up agriculture to private players. The central government has got three laws passed, one of which provides for measures to facilitate the entry of private players in agriculture. The central government’s argument is that the laws seek to “unlock the potential” of agriculture. However, farmers unions have opposed the laws and demanded their repeal as in their view they open the doors for large scale control of agriculture passing from farmers into the hands of foreign and Indian corporate giants. Although on one hand, the draft agriculture policy of the Goa government proposes to prohibit sale of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes and to non-farmers, on the other it proposes to introduce a contract farming bill in which “all safeguards will be made to protect the ownership rights of the original owner.” To “unlock the potential” of agriculture, the draft policy has proposed that farmers having land capable of production should not be included in the below poverty line category. It also wants to bring lands lying idle with religious institutions such as temples and churches under cultivation. The government also intends to prohibit conversion of orchards and paddy fields to non-agriculture use.

The context of the draft agriculture policy is obvious. A lot of cultivable land is lying fallow because the owner or tenant has no interest in growing crops there. The reasons are known. The land holders are small and the scale does not allow a favourable cost-benefit ratio. The youth in the families of farmers prefer to take up other vocations. The draft policy is not devised to bring back the small farmers and their younger generations to agriculture. Although the policy proposes to incorporate agriculture as a subject in the school curriculum right from primary level it is not going to motivate the youth. Can the government make every child a farmer by introducing agriculture from primary level? While the government is speaking of introducing agriculture as a subject from primary level, it is surprising to note that it has failed to give any support to the agricultural institutions providing education on the subject for years.

The draft policy is framed in the background of falling interest in agriculture among farmers. But it does not address the problem of “falling interest”. It does not have a blueprint for bringing back the “uninterested” farmers. It is a blueprint for opening up the lands to private players on a contractual basis. The solution to the problem of Goan farmers losing interest in cultivating their lands is not taking away the lands from them. The core of the draft policy needs to be rewritten for making it Goan farmer-friendly. Goan farmers have small holdings. Small has proven to be big in many parts of India. The secret of success of small farms lies in aggregation. The Goa government has to vigorously promote setting up of farmer producers companies (FPOs), the seeds for which already exist in farmers’ clubs in the state that have practised aggregation in several respects. The FPOs can aggregate production and marketing of small farms. Goa is known for its natural assets. With FPOs in place, the state can become a significant organic producer.