TODAY -

Protection of Agricultural land

Prof Elangbam Bijoykumar *

Protection of Agricultural land
The condition of Paddy field in Nambol Areas in last week of July 2012 :: Pix - Bunti Phurailatpam

Agriculture employs the maximum number of workers directly and indirectly. Therefore, what happens in this sector has implications for the standard of living of many people who are directly or indirectly associated with it. How agriculture fares depends on how optimally the factors of agricultural production are utilised keeping in mind the demand and supply side factors.

Land, labour and capital should be properly used. In Manipur, land is yet to be utilised optimally. Multiple cropping is practised in a small proportion of cultivable land. The land remains fallow most of the year. While the valley is highly congested and large portion of agricultural land is increasingly lost to urbanisation, hills are under utilised still subject to shifting cultivation and religiously refusing to change for the better in the name of tribal way of life. Tribals are resisting the extension of MLR Act in the hills.

For the last five decades we have been talking about tribal friendly land system. Thus, nearly 80% of our land is yet to be surveyed. Only the valley and some villages in Churachandpur and Chandel districts have been cadastrally surveyed which means that we even do not know the area of most of our villages. While the objective is optimal utilisation of agricultural land both in the valley and the hills, the modality differs. In the valley population increase and urbanisation have put lots of pressure on land. More and more agricultural lands are converted into homestead lands, offices and commercial complexes. That makes any data base for land use highly suspect. There are two issues: should agricultural land be sustained? Should we grow rice only?

If we want to sustain the agricultural land there are some issues that need to be taken care of. Property rights should be recognised. Farmers cultivate the land owned by somebody in the city. While the farmer contributes labour, the landowner contributes capital by investing his hard earned cash. Both should have equitably distributed income. If the farmers begin to consider the land and its product as something which should go entirely to him, landowners are alienated.

The toil of the farmer combines with the sacrifice of the landowner to make the venture worthwhile. Why should he not invest elsewhere by buying other non land assets? This antagonism adversely affects optimal utilisation of land and labour. The land owner, because he does not have adequate compensation for his capital invested in land put to agricultural use, is interested in putting his land to non agricultural use. A commercial complex or real estate would yield much more.

Thus an equitable distribution of the benefits from agricultural land is a must for sustained agricultural use of land. Incentives for landowners are as important as incentives for farmers. Without such incentives no amount of persuasion of the farmers will be adequate enough to stop the transfer of agricultural land to non- agricultural uses.

There is need for maintaining commercial viability of agricultural production through appropriate procurement policy. When lots of cheap rice would become available to the people-thanks to the much debated food security act, the market price for rice will decline so much so that rice cultivation will no longer be a commercially viable activity.

The HYV technology as we know is highly capital intensive and fertiliser price is rising along with other input costs. Agricultural wage also has increased countrywide - thanks to MGNREGA. In short agricultural inputs have become costlier. The only way to sustain an activity whose input costs are rising and value of output is declining is procurement by the government at a price which covers at least the cost of cultivation. In the absence of such policy the rapid loss of agricultural is bound to occur.

Should we keep on producing rice at any cost? If an alternative more remunerative and suitable crop is identified, there is no reason why our farmers should not switch over to that crop. Self reliance in the broader context means one is able to buy one's requirement with one's earnings from activities where one has comparative advantage. It should not be interpreted as our ability to produce our requirements at any cost.

We may be but it is not worth it. We will be better off by specialising ourselves in those activities where we have comparative advantage and selling our surplus to others who can do better in different activities. The apples in Himachal Pradesh flourished due to the switch over of farmers to the cultivation of Louisiana variety apples from USA. The local variety gave way to the new variety.

Had they persisted with the local variety, Himachal Pradesh would have been known for some other thing. Now and then we hear of highly remunerative vegetables and herbs in Manipur. Black rice can be highly remunerative but we do not cultivate it in large scale because its yield is low. With little technological innovation it can be done. So is the case with so many other products. With technological innovation and adaptation lots of value addition can be brought about making agriculture highly remunerative. Higher returns from agricultural land and its equitable distribution will help in maintaining agricultural land as it is.

Something should be done to enable farmers sustain their standard of living. The simultaneous pursuit of agricultural and allied activities holds the key to this. This requires finance and expert advice. Banks and extension workers can contribute here. The farmers should be persuaded to take bank loans for productive work. Not being in debt is meaningless if one does not have the money to adopt better techniques and inputs. This opportunity should be supported by sound technical advice on the activities and crops. The commercial viability is closely associated with access to market.

Protection of agricultural land is possible when people are motivated to do so and people are motivated to so when it is remunerative. Technology and institutional support from the government will play a key role in optimal utilisation of agricultural land.


* Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
The writer is from Economics Department, Manipur University
This article was posted on March 29, 2014.


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