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Monday, November 28, 2022

Reviving Goa’s Agriculture By Dr. Manoj S. Kamat

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परत हातांत धरया नांगर
बांदया शेतांत जोत
ओखणें भुयेंक फोडया उमण
पावस आसूं वत…….

पांचवेशार करया गोयें
पयलीं आसलें तशें
नाका परत करचे फुडें
कोणां फुड्यांत पोशे.

रमेश साजू घाडी

Former Union Minister and Goan Statesman, Adv Ramakant Khalap very creatively used the couplets from the poem ‘परत हातांत धरया नांगर …’ by Goa Poet and my dear friend Rameshbab Ghadi, to reiterate his point made to Hon. Agriculture Minister Babu Kavlekar , for revitalising the agriculture in Goa.

Adv. Khalap will always be remembered for writing and submitting to the Goa Government as the Chairman of State Law Commission in 2011, the pioneering Goa Land Conservation and Management Bill. This most pertinent bill if had to be well implemented would have indeed protected our local water bodies, penalised the agricultural land holders for keeping their land fellow and would have empowered the State to take over such land.

To make it difficult for the non-agriculturalist taking over such land, the above ill enabled consolidation of fractional land holdings, and provided for contract farming, agricultural estates and cooperative farms without creating any permanent rights on the land, it at all it can’t be put into cultivation for any genuine reasons. For reasons unknown, none of the noble intentions actualised.

The post-CoViD times demand implementation of drastic reforms to revitalise the agriculture in Goa. Our State which was primarily agricultural few decades ago lost it significantly to rampant mining and indiscriminate tourism in the subsequent years. The law of Karma had its say, we lost mining to the abrupt orders of Hon. Supreme Court while the CoViD pandemic left our tourism industry bleeding we are left with no other recourse than going back to our culture of agriculture, and at the mercy of capitalist mercenaries.

Our agricultural GDP stands barely at 7 percent and the State government for long has been trying without sizeable success, to bring around 25,000 hectares of uncultivated land under farming. It is heartening to note that in the midst of pandemic, our State government has already brought an ordinance to amend the Agriculture Produce and Live Stock Marketing Committee (APMC) Act enabling farmers’ direct access to markets by allowing them to sell their produce to private players.

The Union Budget 2020-21 had asked the States to suitably adopt at its earliest central model laws on agricultural land leasing, marketing and contract farming; namely, the Model Agricultural Land Leasing Act, 2016; Model Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2017; and Model Agricultural Produce and Livestock Contract Farming and Services (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2018.

Goa government favourably responded to one of the above requirement and has now exempted our agriculturalist from paying the market fee of one percent and facilitates electronic national agricultural market (e-nam). A very welcome step indeed!

It’s time that our next obvious step must be to empower our seasonal produce growers by giving them a respectable compensation for their labour, primarily to the growers of Cashew, Pepper, Kokum sol, Otam sol and Alsande.

It was precisely on the 15th of April the Government had announced considering revising the minimum support price for cashew nuts, which is currently notified at Rs 105 per kilogram. Along with cashew nuts, in-principle approval for a revision in the support price of coconut to Rs 12 per piece and alsande to Rs 100 per kg from Rs 70 per kg was also announced.

Nothing on the ground has happened since then. Unfortunately the product prices until today offered by Goa Bagayatdar and updated on May 19, 2020 suggests the buy rate for Cashew at Rs. 92 per kg only, Kokum sol at Rs. 130 and Otam sol at 70/- only. On the other hand the present support rates for coconut is still at Rs 10 per piece while for Goan Bean ‘alsande’ stands at Rs 70 per kg, and is at still for last half a decade without significant revisions.

The future of our Cashew farmers seems to be bleak. The current buy price of Rs. 92 thrown at the farmers is nothing less than a bad joke played on their poor plight. In order to make cashew farming operate at most minimal levels of profits they deserve a respectable rate of at least Rs. 125 to Rs. 130 per kg. We are already in mid-May and the farmers are still holding on to their stocks in anticipation of the notification of better rates as already announced by the government.

Apart from our wrong pricing policy, it is also the Centres’ import policy that hurts them more. Allowing cheap imports from African and South American for blending with local produce have distorted our cashew kernel markets in the country, and needs corrections.

What is hampering our potential for Black Pepper cultivation is poor policy implementation again inspite of good policy. Goa also has a lot of opportunity for upgrading our black pepper production from the mere thousand odd tonnes produced in Goa. The MCX Buy rate for Indian Pepper is Rs 350 while the local buy rate at Goa Bagayatdar is Rs 300 per kg.

Pepper from Brazil and Indonesia in India is available at a rate of Rs. 150 while from Malaysia at Rs. 250 per kg. Though national legislations ensure that no pepper be imported in India for less than Rs. 500 per kg, the unscrupulous elements in the country spoil the soup by importing pepper at an invoice price of Rs. 500 cheating the customs thereby disrupting the price and markets for local growers.

Government of Goa is showing the will to revive agriculture is a good sign. Consultation with agri-experts, economists and policy analysts can show it the way. Any intentions?

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