Stunted Agriculture: A sad reflection of policy failure, a challenge of Manipur Government

Dr Mohendro Nandeibam *

 Drought looming : The condition of Paddy field in Nambol Areas :: last week of July 2012
Drought looming : The condition of Paddy field in Nambol Areas in July 2012 :: Pix - Bunti Phurailatpam

It is glorious to be rich while it is dehumanising to be poor. Who will respect us when we go with a begging bowl to New Delhi every year for Special Treatment, Special Grants, Special Loans and Special Concessions, even after 47 years of statehood (1972) when we are given constitutional power to prepare our own Plans and pass Budget to enjoy the aura of economic freedom?

Food self sufficiency could have been the most powerful strategy for the painless reduction of poverty and intra-regional disparity. The social and economic tension we are experiencing to-day has its economic origin.

To-day, Manipur is a land of fundamental backwardness where one finds 40% of rural population below poverty line who cannot spend Rs. 32 per head per day. More so in hill areas where poverty percentage is more than 42%, being subjected to all kinds of deprivations.

Go to the villages (2515) and see how many of them are there in dilapidated dwellings. Where do they work and how? What they own and purchase? What risks they face? What are their precise economic circumstances? Statistics cannot tell you of the sad side of dismal story. Remember, Manipur lives in the VILLAGES.

Yes, people say Manipur is culturally rich, but economically very poor. How can you enrich your life with only Per Capita Income of Rs 52,436, as against Rs. 2,42,745 of Goa and Rs. 2,10,394 of Sikkim (GOI, Economic Survey, 2016-17)?

How can you tackle the teething problems to get out of the deep rut of poverty when whole atmosphere is plagued with insecurity of investment, insecurity of business and insecurity of life?

What can you expect when the small open economy of your state is visibly in disarray with mounting proliferation of unorganised economic activities in the absence of a strong PUBLIC LAW?

Even to-day Manipur continues to be a small land of family farms, micro-enterprise and household business when India is on the way to Economic Power by 2022. We have to learn the basics of development-partnership, relationship-management and project-planning.

It is not a surprise that “Non-Development” is one of the disturbing features of Manipur (UN). In fact, the state is being exhausted by the twin problems of growthless jobs and jobless growth.

It may be terribly disappointing to expect so-called industrialisation and trade dynamism without a sound foundation of agricultural take off. Remember there is no short-cut to development. Development cannot be created. It evolves. It passes through a number of difficult stages.

Following the principle of comparative advantage, it could be a hopeful beginning for Manipur to act on STATE MISSION on AGRICULTURE FOR DEVELOPMENT, – not for just survival, based upon Area Specialisation Index. The abject ground realities unfold certain “gaps” in critical areas like Irrigation, Credit, Land degradation and Farmers’ Friendly Reforms. They need to be addressed.

Right now the total irrigated area under all crops in Manipur is only 18% as against 99% of Punjab, 89% of Haryana and All India Average of 49%. Area under micro-irrigation is only 318 hectares, as against 2095 hectares of Tripura and 30,970 hectares of Kerala.

How can you ensure food self sufficiency with unirrigated land whose yield is only 1.4 metric tonnes of food grains per hectare as against 4 metric tonnes of irrigated land? As such we have to irrigate both land and man as a matter of practical necessity. Food production is highly water intensive. In fact, prolonged dependence upon the mercy of monsoon is a sign of primitive economy.

The credit per hectare is only Rs.418 as against rs. 2,05, 525 of Punjab, Rs. 1, 41,379 of Haryana and Rs 44,567 of Goa. The innovative initiative is possible only with sufficient credit. Without sufficient credit and assured irrigation, agriculture becomes “lifeless”.

Land degradation is really alarming. 42.6% of Total Geographical Area of Manipur was reported to be degraded area (MOAFW). The cost of land degradation in South Asia is said to be 2% of Gross Domestic Product of the region and 7% of agricultural output. Land degradation amounts to killing the child in the womb of the mother.

The rank of Manipur in the Agricultural Marketing and Farmers’ Friendly Reforms (AMFERI) is fairly low with 7.4 as against 70 of Rajasthan, 66 of Maharashtra and 37 of Assam. Reformations mark a beginning of directional departure of new hope.

The declining trend of yield of food grains from 2397 Kgs/Ha in 2011-12 to 1468 Kgs/Ha in 2015-16 in Manipur is, perhaps, a living testimony to the failure of half-hearted and casual interventions by the government in agricultural sector. The agricultural sector of the state is marked by negative Growth Rate of Productivity of -0.77 (2004-05 to 2014-15 Kurukshetra, Feb. 2018).

Our farming community is still in the grip of huge burden of economic insecurity. To-day the agrarian economy looks feeble and fickle. 40% of farmers are now willing to get themselves dispossessed of land. Market-based solutions may not deliver goods in a state plagued with a number of imperfections at all levels.

The state should not be a mere referee; but a dominant player in economic game. “Played well, the state‘s activities can accelerate economic development. Played badly, they produce stagnation or, in the extreme, economic and social disintegration” (World Development Report, 1997).

Now what shall we do? There is a crying need for improving Political Economy of agricultural sector to ensure constructive relationship between agricultural sector and the state. More important is Good Governance of Agricultural Resources to avoid the sudden shocks and long-term loss.

The Unity in Approach and Action of sub-sectors, particularly irrigation, soil conservation and financial institutions could be the backbone of accelerated transformation towards a new era of food self-sufficiency.

Manipur needs a CUSTODIAN of AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES AS AGRICULTURE MINISTER who can embark upon the “Productivity Revolution” of small farmers to avoid the dark days of pre-mature future. The onset of Act East Policy of India at this highly “shaky” stage may prove otherwise. “Globalisation is a threat to weak or capriciously governed states” like Manipur (WDR 1997). It must be guarded against.

* Dr Mohendro Nandeibam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer was Professor of Economics in Manipur University and associated with a number of institutions at different levels.
This article was webcasted on August 24 2019.

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