Mizoram yet to fulfil decade-old promise to ginger farmers
Aizawl: The year gone by was a bad one for the state’s ginger farmers. Ask Marovi of Mualvum village, who has been cultivating ginger for over ten years. For the past three years, poor soil quality has affected the quality and price of her ginger crop, with 2018 being the worst. She had sowed eight quintals of ginger but was able to harvest only 15 quintals from it. Usually, farmers can harvest up to 10 quintals of ginger from each quintal of ginger sowed. “When the ginger quality is good, we earn quite a decent amount,” said Marovi. “In a good year I earn Rs 2 lakh, I even bought a car. But last year, most of the ginger crop withered away even before harvesting.”
Mrs Marovi’s story is not an exception. With 70 per cent of Mizoram’s population engaged in agriculture, it is among the top four ginger producers in the country, a cash crop on which many farmers’ income is heavily dependent. But the last two years have been hard on the ginger farmers, with many unable to even recover their costs.
A majority of voters in Mizoram are farmers and they feel that their welfare is not at the priority list of political parties’ agenda. In spite of hard work and good harvests, there are neither warehouses nor good connecting roads where they can sell their crops. Ginger is among one of the top cash crops of Mizoram as well as turmeric (all these are organic by default). Farmers who are lucky enough to have fields close to the national highway are well off in their business but most who are far from link roads and remote villages are yet to benefit from their crops.
Lalremruata, a farmer from Tachhip village, south of the Aizawl is one of 80-100 families in this village cultivating ginger. Though his is relatively a success story, it reflects how middlemen are depriving farmers like him from getting a remunerative price. Lalremruata started planting ginger in 2017. He takes immense pride in his produce, saying the sugarcane leaves in his field provide natural manure for the ginger plants. He planted six quintals of ginger from which he harvested and sold 52 quintals for Rs 1.85 lakhs in 2018. But the Mizo middleman to whom he first sold ginger for Rs.36 per kilogram, dropped the price Rs. 35 and later to the minimum support price of Rs.30 per kilogram. Poor market conditions also led to a loss of over two quintals of ginger, said Lalremruata. “They rotted in the fields and were not fit to be harvested.”
When market conditions are not favourable, farmers generally do not harvest the ginger at all, hoping to harvest it when market conditions change. They have no other option as there are no cold storage facilities available for the harvested ginger, 57,010 tonnes of which are produced every year. Ginger can at best be kept in the open for a month so. As a result, without proper price support from the government, some farmers last year were forced to sell it at throwaway prices of Rs 10 per kg, said Selthuama, 73, a farmer from Kawnpui village.
The politics of ginger played out in the 2018 assembly elections which brought back the Mizo National Front (MNF) to power after a gap of 10 years. The farmers demand is that the state procures their ginger and other crops directly from them at a minimum support price, cutting out the middleman totally. Farmers allege that even if the market price of ginger is Rs 40 per kilogram, the middleman offers them just Rs 12-20.
Towards this end, the farmers are hoping that the Mizoram Farmers Society (MIFAS) set up in 2007 during the earlier MNF government, will get government support to directly buy the ginger from farmers and sell it in the trading and export centres like Siliguri and Kolkata with whom they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding.
The Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act passed by Mizoram in 2008, now to be replaced by the Agriculture Produce and Livestock Marketing (APML) Act 2017, is meant to regulate market price, set up markets and link farmers and traders. As MIFAS chairman Lalthanliana said, “During the Congress government we were unable to do any work. Now that MNF is back, a revolving fund of rupees one crore will be allocated by the government to help ginger farmers.”
Compared to other crops, ginger, planted during April-May gets farmers the best price, and the state’s economy is also dependent on earnings from this crop. Farmers usually grow ginger in tandem with other crops like cucumber, pumpkin, mustard and beans are grown, which are not as remunerative. Harvesting is done in Jan-Feb and again in June, though traders mainly buy during January.
Dr Tridip Kumar Hazarika, Associate Professor of Horticulture at Mizoram University agrees that streamlining marketing channels can abolish middlemen and enable farmers to sell their produce at the right prices. “Since Mizoram’s climate is moderate, there is great potential for cultivation of off-season vegetables,” said Prof Hazarika. “The state should give subsidised loans to farmers to construct greenhouses for such cultivation. Mizoram is a biodiversity hotspot and produces many local fruits and vegetables. There is a need to develop processing factories for these to add value,” added Hazarika.
The All Mizoram Farmer’s Union (AMFU), the sole farmers’ union in Mizoram, organised a rally last September for implementation of the APMC Act. AMFU General Secretary, Zion Lalremruata said the Congress government did not implement the Act as they were pushing “their flagship NLUP programme”. Now the farmers union will be pushing for the new Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (APML) Act 2017 to be passed at the next budget session.
The Congress government had introduced a New Land Use Policy (NLUP) on a large-scale in 2014, after experimenting with it on and off during the 80s and 90s, with the aim of enabling farmers to develop suitable, permanent and stable trades. It was mainly introduced to discourage slash and burn (jhum) cultivation. In NLUP a proposal was also mooted to build a wholesale market for farmers, and a town was even chosen to host this market. But this market is yet to be set up. “This can be done only after 7-10 years after farmers shift to commercial crops,” said Congress spokesperson Lallianchhunga. “It is too soon to say if NLUP is a success or failure, even though many farmers benefited from it”.
Through NLUP, landless residents and those without a stable livelihood were given cash benefits and land to farm. It aimed to create self-sufficiency for the state in rice and vegetables. But the policy led to farmers shifting to cash crops from food crops. Plus, the programme, which did not include a market price regulatory element, ran into problems in selection of beneficiaries, which saw many needy farmers being left out because of local party politics. Also, other parties did not support the NLUP which made implementation more problematic.
Also, taking NLUP along with the new APLM can bring big benefits to farmers. For instance, the number of trading and other activities under NLUP can be increased in all sectors, like bringing spices under horticulture and breeding ornamental fish under pisciculture, to give two examples. High-value medicinal and aromatic crops like Aloe vera, Patchouli and Stevia can also be brought under this. All of which would provide the farmers earning opportunities throughout the year. “All that the ginger farmers ask for is a regulated market where they can sell their produce at a decent price and timely manner,” added farmer Lalremruata.
With inputs from Albert Zotinkhuma