Agriculture

Meghalaya farmer parliament: Will it help plug policy loopholes

In this well intentioned and executed parliament, both the government and the farmers appeared determined to make Meghalaya emerge as a role model for the rest of the country

 
By Arjun Trivedi
Last Updated: Thursday 24 January 2019
Representative Image. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Just as the national ‘Kisan Mukti’ protest rally in New Delhi concluded, the Meghalaya government held its first-ever farmers' parliament between December 4 and 5, 2018, at the state convention centre in capital Shillong.

The parliament was organised by the state department of agriculture in collaboration with Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA) and the Hill Farmers' Union (HFU).

Addressing the gathering of over 500 farmer representatives from across the state, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma acknowledged the failure of his government to listen to its farmers’ problems.

“Thus far, the policies and schemes had been formulated without knowing what the farmers truly needed. And the farmers continued to be unaware of the government's schemes and policies,” he said.

Agriculture production commissioner of Meghalaya, IAS officer KN Kumar, corroborated this lack of communication between the government and the farmers, saying, “This [information] space was being filled by middlemen and weak farmers associations,” which only made things worse.

Kumar added that while no reports of farmers' distress have surfaced directly in Meghalaya, the problems that the farmers face are serious in the same degree—leading to increasing dispossession of their livelihoods towards daily wage-earning manual jobs and migration.

Each of the 500 farmer representatives at the parliament represented their respective block's marginal, small, and semi-medium scale farmers that account for 96 per cent of the farmers in Meghalaya.

The focus of the two-day gathering was mutually constructive dialogue without party politics. The advisor and chief strategist, Lanu Ignatius, explained, “The meeting had well structured and moderated sessions, with ample time for questions and answers.”

“Questions that could not be answered, even as the sessions stretched beyond their assigned limits, were asked to be submitted in writing, directly to the moderators of the sessions to be answered duly by the relevant government agencies,” he added.  

During the session, the farmers endorsed the national demand for debate and approval of the Kisan Mukti Bills in the Lok Sabha. This was a primary demand in the November 29-30, 2018, Kisan Mukti march that took place in New Delhi.

The Meghalaya farmers demanded that the state government and MPs support the two national Kisan Mukti Bills when they are tabled. These bills seek to comprehensively end the vicious cycle of farmer's debt by synergising the solutions of farmers debt relief with solutions to provide them remunerative minimum support prices as per the reports by the MS Swaminathan commission-led National Commission on Farmers.

All the demands were consolidated as a charter of demands and resolution at the farmer parliament. This charter has been submitted to the state Cabinet—to be discussed in a special state legislative assembly session.

Other demands:

  • Establishment of a farmer commission at the earliest, as well as the establishment of an implementation and monitoring committee for all agriculture and allied sector schemes and missions at the block level of the state
  • 2019 be declared as the ‘Year of the Farmer’, and special funds be allocated for introduction and promotion of new technologies, including mobile application development by HFU, seed technologies, tissue culture lab, and installation of solar based food dryers, etc
  • Strengthening of public healthcare services, with focus on preventive and pre-emptive primary healthcare so that households don’t reel under the burden of ill health and privatised unaffordable healthcare
  • Promotion of Global Good Agricultural Practice (GLOBAL GAP) standard compliant farming and methods, and a comprehensive agricultural policy for the state
  • Allocation of land and special incentive for setting up of pineapple and tomato food processing plants by HFU

As a step toward the promotion of new technologies, HFU with the support of Meghalaya government, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a Machine Learning Artificial Intelligence App for farmers — called Nongrep (nongrep in Khasi language means farmer) with its software partner Impetus Solutions from Hyderabad — as a social innovation project.

This app will address matters of farm aggregations, soil health and disease identification, crop yield, farm produce pickups, market linkage and retail sellers app. "The app is right now under beta testing with HFU,” said Lanu Ignatius, who is also the chief architect of the app.

There were also a series of focused technical sessions on the various departments within the department of agriculture namely: agriculture and horticulture; animal husbandry and veterinary; and fisheries, bamboo mission and piggery. The sessions were chaired by the respective department's director or secretary.

In each session, a series of expert presentations informed the farmers of the department's broad mission and its related schemes, technologies, and general infrastructure.

At the end of the first day, there was an hour-long open session for farmers to comment and make suggestions on the day's proceedings. This session stretched beyond its hour long limit as the moderating official, Kumar, along with his colleagues, patiently responded to all questions.

The response to some of the questions either directly led to a solution or to immediate steps towards one. In this well intentioned and executed historic parliament, both the government and the farmers appeared determined to make Meghalaya emerge as a role model for the rest of the country. The state plans to regularly hold such parliaments in the future.

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