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Bringing Back Farmers To Fields

IN times when farming households are giving up agriculture as they find it un-remunerative, the Calangute panchayat has started a scheme to encourage farmers to go back to their roots. Calangute has witnessed rapid and haphazard development along the coast over the past four decades. Seeing better gains in converting land to settlement, many farmers in the area gave away their land for construction. The Calangute panchayat’s decision to help farming should be described as bold and contrary to the trend of encouraging concrete jungles. The decision, if implemented in the right spirit, would also mean that the land, whatever of it is left in the area, will remain agricultural in the days ahead.
The Calangute village was an agricultural and fishing area until tourism changed the scene leading to concrete structures, with everybody trying to get a slice of the tourism pie. The landscape of the area has changed since 1980s and continues to be changing for the worse. To stop further concretization the Calangute panchayat has come up with two schemes to reverse the trend of land filling and urbanisation. It has procured a tractor to allow its free use by farmers to plough fields and it is going to distribute seeds for kitchen gardening. The idea to encourage farming deserves appreciation as most local self-governing bodies think of schemes to increase their revenues by allowing more constructions and encouraging commercial activities. There is great demand for vegetables, especially locally grown ones which fetch premium prices too, and mass scale production would help farmers to make gains faster, besides helping the areas remain green and pollution free. The success of the Calangute incentives could propel other local self-governing bodies to replicate the idea, promoting agriculture and greening.
The Calangute panchayat and other panchayats need to be fully supported by the agriculture department, which has been introducing programmes and doing campaigns to promote cultivation of new varieties of rice and vegetables. Thanks to their initiative, some vegetables that were not grown so much in Goa are being produced in large quantity. It is disturbing to note that agricultural land along the coast has been converted to settlement or commercial zones to facilitate construction of residential and commercial buildings. Revenue officials and other law enforcing authorities have been ineffective in dealing with complaints of land filling and razing illegal structures including commercial buildings that have come up on agricultural lands. While the state government has been promoting agriculture in a big way and increasing its outlay substantially, it needs to spend much more and do much more to revive farmers’ interest in their occupation. Many farmers have been shunning farming owing to the rising costs of labour; it is acting adversely in the case of farmers with small land holdings. As their land holdings are small, they cannot afford to purchase mechanical farming implements. The agriculture department has been trying to help farmers by lending equipment. However, there have been complaints of supply of equipment from agriculture department being inadequate to meet the needs of farming community, especially during the kharif season when almost all the active farmers take to agricultural activities.
It would really need a revolution to turn back the state to agriculture. However, whatever farming is there must be saved and made attractive. If farming becomes profitable, more and more land will return to it. The Calangute panchayat has to ensure that its modest initiative does not end up there. It is not only mechanical implements farmers need to beat the non-availability of farm hands but also round-the-year irrigation, so that multiple crops can be grown. With round-the-year cropping agricultural activities would become economically profitable even in small land holdings and farmers can repay the credit advanced in instalments. Farmers clubs should be actively encouraged and supported by the agriculture department and panchayats. Financial assistance should be provided to them with other common benefits. While the remaining farmers in Calangute have been given an opportunity by the local panchayat to go back to their roots, it has to be seen how far the panchayat is able to take it. The initiative should not be limited to publicity. It is very necessary that farmers do not get disappointed and fall prey to the same temptation which other landholders in the village did to allow their landholdings to be developed for non-agricultural purposes. The panchayats in the coastal areas have been notorious in allowing constructions on a large scale, so much so that their natural drainage got choked and there was the irony of water scarcity living close by a sea. Just a scheme for farmers would not do: the Calangute panchayat has to show its resolve to stop concretization by prohibiting any more constructions.

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