Making money grow on trees
All culture began when agriculture permitted the human race to grow its own food and thus ‘settle down’ on the banks of rivers. From the Nile and the Euphrates to the Indus Valley Civilization, the story of man, rivers and civilizations are intertwined. The disputes of the third millennium are mostly about sharing the waters of rivers to ensure food security in each state and country. Water is still the fountain of life. Crop cultivation is also dependent on it. Hence, maximizing the returns from available water is the bedrock of agriculture in the present era.
By far the most popular scheme in the State Sector implemented by the Directorate of Agriculture is the one that provides subsidy for digging a well, fitting a pump and connecting a pipeline for the conveyance of water to the crops. It began with a modest 50% subsidy for digging and lining a well limited to Rs.10,000/- per farmer in the mid 1980s, when I was a rookie agriculture officer in Bicholim, the taluka to which I have returned in my new avatar as a promoter of things organic. The subsidy is now up from 50 per cent to 75 per cent and from Rs. 10,000/- to Rs. 75,000/- limit. A farmer with 2,000 sq. metres of cultivable land can avail of this scheme. There is no need of a bank loan or a bankable project as stipulated for many schemes making them into non-starters.
The purchase and installation of water pumps normally had a subsidy of 50% of the cost, but this jumped to 90% in the election year 2011-12. One needs to apply for the scheme with proof of land ownership and, once approved by the Zonal Agriculture Officer of the taluka, produce proof of purchase of the pump and the bill of the new electrical connection, The beneficiaries of this scheme are a legion and even a former Minister of Agriculture has taken its benefit, albeit in someone else’s name for administrative convenience. Where it will now rest depends of the Chief Minister who has retained the Agriculture portfolio with him, perhaps for the first time after Dr. Wilfred de Souza briefly held it when he was the CM in the early 1990s. With more than 4% of the State budget being allocated to it for availing the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna [RKVY] of the Central Government, the agriculture portfolio is no push over. Besides, it affects the life and prospects of many a voter in the rural areas.
There is a subsidy of 50% on gadgets like timers, remote control, etc for pumps. Tony Pacheco who resides in Ribandar operates the water pump and drip irrigation system by a remote switch activated by a mobile phone vibrator. During 2011-12, the Goa Government had added 20% to the subsidy on sprinklers and 40% on drip irrigation over and above the 50% subsidy provided by the Central government. With a little assistance from the authorized dealer, one could even install drip irrigation system for free.
In contrast, the proposed assistance for bringing fallow lands under cultivation for a maximum subsidy of Rs. 50,000/- for 20,000 sq. metres of land needs not just a bankable project but also the approval of a committee comprising of a Deputy Director of Agriculture, Village Sarpanch, Mamlatdar, and Zonal Agriculture Officer of the taluka. Getting any two of them together is tough enough, getting all four of them to visit a farmers field together is close to a miracle. Obviously, there are no claimants for this subsidy, even if fallow fields are brought under cultivation. One would have thought that getting fallow land under cultivation would have quicker and easier delivery of assistance by way of subsidy in a state where agriculture is on the decline ever since the boom of tourism and mining industries began, opening up a whole array of ancillary services that provided alternate sources of income to the farmers dependent on rain to water their crops. Irrigation projects like the Selaulim dam have seen their waters diverted to more pressing domestic and industrial uses.
Subsidy for purchase of Agriculture Machinery was runaway success, with more machines subsidized in 2011-12 that perhaps all of the previous four years of the XII Five Year Plan, ended 31 March, 2012. When the subsidy was raised from 50 per cent to 75 per cent and then up to 90 per cent on the standard cost, people bought petrol engine driven “Weed Cutters” and power tillers as if there was no tomorrow . Perhaps, they were right. A whole lot of agricultural machinery is available in the villages and many a owner has undergone in operation and maintenance of the machines conducted at Ela Farm, Old Goa, with a modest stipend of Rs.4,000/-.
The traditional “Kulaghar” areca growers have had to bear the brunt of fluctuating prices of areca and loss in yield due to a fungal disease known as Koleroga, that the farmers in the mining belt blame on the mining dust and draw benefits from the CSR funds. Those outside the mining belt get an assistance of Rs. 4,000/- per hectare for spraying fungicides to protect the crop and an “Assured Support Price” on the areca that they actually manage to harvest. It has had a major impact on the areca farmers’ earnings in Sanguem, Ponda, Bicholim and Sattari and the farmers’ societies to which they belong. This is one sector where the post election ASP of Rs.170/- per kilo is way ahead of the Rs.100/- per kilo till 31 March, 2012. A new entrant to the ASP regime is the cashew nut, bringing the much needed relief to the villagers dependent on the crop that failed miserably this year. Why, even the cashew feni stocks may not last until next season after a second successive bad season for cashew.
There are shortcomings in everything and everyone. What needs to be done about the shortcomings is to help overcome them. The key to this is the spirit of TEAM. for “Together Everyone Achieves More”. The Konkan Fruit Fest, the Festival of Plants & Flowers, the Plant Utsav and such events create the opportunities to rub shoulders and get to know each other a little better. Publicizing its schemes is difficult for the Directorate of Agriculture because it is short-staffed even to handle its extension needs, does not have the core competence for publicity and the officers are unhappy with years of ad hoc promotions that block their next promotion because ‘ad hoc’ is not regular service. If no one is interested in the welfare of the agriculture officers [who were even made to stop the annual book on agriculture in Goa by prohibiting their association from raising funds for it through advertisements other than from Government agencies], why should we expect them to serve us with a smile?
The Goa Directorate of Agriculture has set up a Bio-Control Laboratory at Ela Farm, with a mushroom spawn production unit attached to it. This has reduced the dependence on poisonous insecticides for control of endemic pests and given a fillip to organic farming. The Chorao Farmers’ Club [www. choraofarmers.com] in the Village Panchayat of Chodan-Madel on the island of Chorao in the Mandovi river, are the pioneers of things organic at the farmer level. A Toyota Foundation project implemented by TERI was able to synergise the inputs from the farmers, Directorate of Agriculture and organizations like the PGS Organic Council and its members like the Organic Farming Association of India, the Botanical Society of Goa as well as Syamantak, the School Without Walls [www.syamantak.org]. The Chorao Island Red Kernel Rice is already a household name in Goa. The “Aamcho Mankurad Mango” has established itself in the consciousness of the mango loving people of Goa. These fruits got sold no sooner they were unloaded at the Konkan Fruit Fest 2012 [www.konkanfruitfest.com].
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is an old saying that is again unfolding in a world faced with food shortages. The Food Security Bill is already under consideration of the Federal Government. In Goa, even the mere stoppage of transport for a week can create a crisis of vegetable. The schemes of the Goa State Horticulture Corporation together with the Directorate of Agriculture need our attention from this monsoon onwards. Lets get going before the going gets too tough to handle