Plight of the peasants in the hills of Manipur
- Part 2 -

Dr Hoineilhing Sitlhou / Telsing Shokhothang Haokip *

 Lafoi Shamda haptuna puthorkpa : Luwanglong Khullen , Tamenglong carrying Banana basket :: 12th December 2017
Lafoi Shamda haptuna puthorkpa : Luwanglong Khullen , Tamenglong carrying Banana basket in December 2017 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Middlemen Vs Peasantry: A Social Survey

A study was conducted in august of 2019. The aim was to unveil the dynamics of the relationships between the small land holding agricultural peasants and the middlemen in the context of the hill economy of Manipur.

The study identifies three common horticultural products (Potato, Cabbage and Brinjal) that are widely circulated in the local markets dominated by the Thadou dialect speaking Kukis and follow up on them via the four agencies, small landholding agricultural peasants, middlemen, greengrocers/ vendors and consumers.

The aim is to find out the overall profit procured by them in the overall process of economic transaction, especially highlighting the profit made by the middleman as compared to the actual producer of the vegetables.

When potatoes were sold for 20 rupees per kilogram by the peasant, the middleperson (as the respondents were all women) sells the best quality potatoes at 30 rupees per kilogram to buyers who can afford it. The rest is sold by her to the greengrocer who is seated at the market for a price ranging from 23 to 25 per kilogram. A sack containing 50 kilogram of potatoes is purchased for rupees 1000 by the middleperson from the actual cultivator. The greengrocer sells it at rupees 30 per kilogram.

In the transaction over cabbage(s), the peasant sells it to the middleperson at a price ranging between rupees 10 to 20 per kilogram depending on seasonal availability. When the fieldwork was conducted in July-August (2019), the cabbages were sold at rupees 10 per kilogram.

The middleperson sells it to the grocer for 15 rupees per kilogram. The price of the cabbages often fluctuates and the middleperson told the researcher that it is sold at different prices (13, 20 and 30 rupees) per kilogram by the middleperson to the green grocer depending on the season. The cabbages bought for 15 rupees from the middleperson is sold for 20 rupees per kilogram by the green grocer.

Brinjals were sold by the peasant at a price ranging between 10 to 15 rupees per kilogram. It is sold by the middleperson to others (including the greengrocers) at rupees 16, 18, 20, 30, 40 per kilogram depending on the season and availability. The green grocer usually tries to get it at the cheapest possible price, even if it means compromising on the quality. She earns about 5 to 10 rupees per kilogram as profit.

At the time of the fieldwork, brinjals were sold at rupees 10 per kilogram by the peasant producer. The middleperson sells it to the greengrocer and others at a cost between rupees 12 to 15 per kilogram. The greengrocer at the market sells it for rupees 20 per kilogram. The data reflects the plight of the poor peasants who are not getting their due in the economic transaction. Most of the respondents belonging to the first category (the peasant or actual agricultural cultivator) are small landholding agricultural peasants.

30-year-old Mrs. JoycyKipgen grows potato, cabbage, ginger, pumpkin, cucumber and maize in her jhum field. After deducting all the expenditures incurred in the farming like purchasing of seeds, manures, payment of labour services (Rs. 300) in the farm (ploughing, weeding etc.) and transportation charges from village to the market place (Rs. 30 per bag), the overall profit is not much. She says she gets about rupees 200 to 300 per each bag of vegetables she sells in a day.

Similarly, 55-year-old Chongkeng Haolai gets about rupees 500 in a day, whereas, 60-year-old Hoikhoneng Chongloi gets about rupees 15000 as annual profit. This is discouraging farming activity in the hills as farming is no longer seen as a productive enterprise. The middlemen who have better networking or connection or capital are able to gain in a day (or half a day), the same amount as the peasant who had investedmonths of labour and capital in the production of the vegetables.

Concluding Remarks

Though the study could only focus on the Kukis, the plight of the peasants or the small land holding farmers or landless farm laborers is similar across the different communities of Manipur.

It is a common knowledge that the rural villages in Manipur have witnesses a shift toward non-farm enterprises, in which there is a largescale migration towards towns or even cities to seek better employment prospects. But in the discourse of development, there are a few sections of the rural poor, who are left outwithout options, still wholly dependent on farming as their primary source of livelihood.

It is pertinent for the state to intervene to ensure that they receive a fair price for their produce. In many cases, the simple-minded rural peasants are ill equipped to negotiate with the crafty middlemen who are well-versed in business diplomacy.

The peasants easily give in to the middlemenís bargain over their produce, undermining the fact that it was the yield of their one year of labour. The dependency now becomes unbalanced as the transaction is not so profitable for them. As they are unskilled for any other trade or profession and lack capital of any kind, they have no alternative option other than to continue farming and be content with the meager outcome of their agricultural production.

A respondent asserts, Keiholhoulhohohi min einehmang u hibou chu(our hard work in cultivating the fields does not benefit us much. We are shortchanged by others)summing up their condition in a single sentence. The production for market and the introduction of the illiterate peasants to commercial market economy have made them a vulnerable prey of the middlemen who exploit them in the business transaction.

Thus, one reason behind the dwindling interest of the peasants in agriculture could be because it is no longer considered a beneficialenterprise. This is despite the fact that they have no alternative career or source of livelihood to fall back on.

The study concludes that the peasants need to be encouraged by the state keeping in mind their important contribution to the stateís economy. It is important to take initiative in making them take pride in the farming profession.

It hopes to influence the policies of the state in instituting a farmerís market (Rythu Bazar Model of Hyderabad) at strategic locations in the hills of Manipur where the farmers can directly sell their produce at a fair price to the consumer, thus eliminating the role of the middlemen.

The state should develop a mechanism for regulating the prices of the produce thus ensuring that they get their due in the overall transaction. Moreover, there should be awareness programs and state aid to control plant pests and diseases affecting food crops to minimize the losses of the farmers.

Concluded ...

Dr Hoineilhing Sitlhou-Sampar ( hoilhing(AT)gmail(DOT)com)teaches at the University of Hyderabad and T. Shokhothang Haokip( tilpaohaokip(AT)gmail(DOT)com ) is the Headmaster of 2 in 1 Omega Public School & Kindergarten.
They would like to thank all the respondents, including HenginlenKipgen.
The fieldwork has been funded by UGC-SAP, Dept. of Sociology, University of Hyderabad.

* Dr Hoineilhing Sitlhou / Telsing Shokhothang Haokip wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 04 2019.

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