Goan farmers must give up their obsession with paddy
IT would be interesting to see how the Goa government manages to keep vegetable supplies to the state sufficient enough to keep prices under control. Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Minister Govind Gaude has suggested to the chairman of Goa State Horticultural Corporation (GSHC) to hold meetings with farmers’ associations in Sangli, Kolhapur and other districts of Maharashtra for import of vegetables. Gaude’s suggestion was obviously a reaction to spikes in prices of vegetables following spells of heavy rain that damaged vegetable crops and disrupted supplies from Karnataka. The wholesalers from Belagavi, who for long have had the monopoly in supplying vegetables to Goa, have made the most of the natural calamity by pushing vegetable prices to new highs. If Gaude has to be believed, a number of farmers’ associations in Maharashtra are interested in sending their produce to Goa. If cheaper vegetables are available in Maharashtra, Goa should buy them.
Goa has for long been dependent on supplies from neighbouring states to meet most of its requirements for food items, including vegetables. The close proximity to Belagavi made it as the prime source of vegetables as transportation from there to Goa was easier. Normally prices at Belagavi were lower than that at Satara and Kolhapur. Belagavi has become not only a source of vegetables to Goa but also to other parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra. As a result the wholesale dealers at Belagavi have come to dictate terms to importers, including GSHC, who had to reluctantly accept whatever prices offered so as to ensure steady supplies. The wholesalers at Belagavi, as well as the transporters, often manipulated the market in order to get the maximum. Goa was not in a situation to counter their manipulative practices as the state had no alternative. Vegetables were a daily requirement. The GSHC had its outlets to reach cheaper vegetables to consumers. It remains to be seen how seriously Gaude and the GSHC move in the direction of sourcing vegetables from other markets in order to prevent spikes in prices.
There is another area the state government needs to work in. It must formulate and implement programmes to make Goa less dependent on import of vegetables from other states. The best way forward would be to give a new and sustainable direction to the agriculture sector in the state. Agriculture should be reoriented toward horticulture and cash crops. The agriculture department has started encouraging setting up of green houses and poly houses; more and more of them should be established. The department has been talking of value addition in agriculture for better marketing. It has helped develop hybrid coconut. There are more than a hundred varieties of mangoes grown in Goa. The department is promoting cultivation of local vegetables. However, the scale of the programmes for increasing the production of vegetables and fruits is still very small. The department has to spend more money and more time and engage more manpower to increase the scale.
Agriculture is not considered a respectable occupation in Goa as it does not bring good income. More and more younger persons from agricultural families are giving up cultivation as an occupation. There is need to bring them back to agriculture by making it profitable. Horticulture is one area that can make it possible. Goan agriculture has been obsessed with paddy. The agriculture department needs to move farmers away from paddy to growing of vegetables and other cash crops. Goa has small land holdings that can grow vegetables with the assurance of a profitable aggregation. Goan farmers have failed to take advantage of the huge demand for locally grown vegetables which fetch higher prices compared to imported vegetables. Schemes must be devised to attract more and more farmers to grow vegetables. There is a trend of floriculture growing in certain parts of the state. The dynamics of floriculture are powered entirely by the demand of the market. Similar dynamics can drive spread of vegetable cultivation in the state. The agriculture department must hold more conferences and camps on value addition and orientation to marketing to educate farmers and impart them training in cultivation of vegetables and cash crops. If Goan farmers grow enough vegetables it will minimize import.