What Is Holding Back the Potential of Meghalaya’s Agriculture Sector?
Meghalaya’s agricultural potential is yet to be unleashed. The state’s agrarian population is at a staggering 83%! And as impressive as that number may sound, the truth is far from it. In fact, the farmers of Meghalaya face numerous challenges and they have been struggling with the same for decades.
Remote and isolated – As a region, the entire area of Northeast has only 2% connectivity to the rest of India. This has severely impeded trade and commerce with the rest of the country. And even though a majority of Meghalaya’s population is dependent on agriculture, seldom do we hear of a popular produce from the state being promoted in the rest of the country. Given the isolation and the lack of a proper supply chain, Meghalaya’s farmers have largely resorted to subsistence farming.
Terrain – Owing to the elevation, transportation is a major hurdle in the state. Of the 7,633 KM of road network in Meghalaya, only 3,691 KM is black topped and the rest is graveled. This in turn puts up a major challenge to the farmers of the state who have little or no option to transport their goods outside the state. This, in turn, leaves farmers at the mercy of traders and large suppliers who have the advantage of mobilizing transportation at costs they can afford. In the process, the farmers are offered prices that barely covers their cost.
Storage – There are no state sponsored storage and refrigeration units in the state. Farmers are therefore not able to store any surplus produce and this in turn deters them from growing anything on a large scale. Ironically, this deterrence loops back to the market which cannot expand as there is no supply from the farmers’ end.
Is All Hope Lost Then for the Farmers of Meghalaya?
No, there is hope yet. In fact, the scope for enhancing and capitalizing on the potential of Meghalaya’s agriculture sector is tremendous. Various studies have been conducted on the natural affinity of Meghalaya for agriculture. The state has been blessed with nature in various forms which will help uplift the farmers here, be it the elevation, the groundwater or the pristine air quality, all of which are conducive to agriculture.
Traditionally organic – The farmers of the state continue to practice age old traditions in agriculture which have been passed down from one generation to the next. And one of the biggest plus points of this tradition is the aversion towards the use of chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. This in turn results in produce which is healthy and nutritious. While it is true that not all farmers in the state do not follow this, they form only a small portion, as the rest are resolute in their stand against the use of chemicals in their fields. And with the recent push by the government for organic agriculture in its 2016 Budget, Meghalaya is at a unique position to take advantage of this opportunity.
Forest cover – What Meghalaya has to offer to the rest of the country does not come only from its fields, but also from its vast forest cover. At present, the state’s forest cover accounts for 70% of the total area. The people have been drawing on the abundant resources from the forests of the state for generations, in the form of fruits, berries, honey and medicinal plants. Some of these have been brought over to the family farms too!
Unique and endemic – When it comes to food, Meghalaya or any Northeast India state for that matter can boast of any number of unique fruits, berries or vegetables which are unheard of outside the region. Every one of these fruits, berries or vegetables carry tremendous value in terms of nutrition and health and have been part our diet for ages. In fact, 40% of the total flora in India is represented by the Northeast alone. Meghalaya itself is home to 3,128 plant species, of which 1,237 are endemic to the state alone.
Air quality – It is a no brainer when it comes to the pristine and pure environs of Meghalaya. If you are travelling towards Shillong from Guwahati, about half way, you will begin to feel the purity and “cleanliness” of the air quality. And yes, you will feel this even as you drive past numerous other vehicles on the national highway that connects Meghalaya to Assam. This purity in the air quality itself contributes to the quality of the produce being grown by the farmers of the state.
Abundant water – Meghalaya averages about 281.8 cm in rainfall annually. In fact, the state shares a third position with Assam in terms of rainfall in India, preceded by Arunachal Pradesh and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Other than that, the state receives rainfall most part of the year, with the most emphasis between May and October. Moreover, the state also has a vast network of natural springs which the Meghalaya Basin Development Authority (MBDA) is currently exploring. In an ongoing exercise, MBDA has been able to map 2,000 springs in the state so far. The state is also blessed by 25 rivers which help in hydrating the soil the entire year. Lastly, the state has an abundant supply of groundwater too, which amounts to 1.60 billion cubic meters. This reservoir is yet to be fully explored and used as the state is rain fed most of the year, hence not warranting its use.
Rich biodiversity – Meghalaya’s geographical structure supports diverse vegetation types which in turn creates a huge opportunity for the farmers to grow different types of crops. This makes the state home to a large variety of economically viable medicinal and aromatic plants, fruit and food producing trees, oilseeds, fodder, bamboo and canes, dyes and spices, orchids and other flowering plants. The state’s high altitude allows for important cash crops like Arabica coffee and Kiwi to flourish while at the same time the low lying areas support cashews and areca nut, betel leaves, Indian bay leaves, black pepper and cardamom.
There is tremendous potential in Meghalaya agriculture sector to grow and flourish. Zizira aims to play a part in this by understanding the pain points of our farmers and providing them with long term and sustainable solutions.
Do you have a story to contribute or solutions that will help the farmers of our state? Write to us!