Sustainable solution and food sovereignty in Manipur

The range of policies targeting land and resources of Manipur will unleash impact on the livelihood and survival of the farmers.

Representational image (PHOTO: Pixabay)

India is an agrarian country with around 70 per cent of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. Although the modern agricultural patterns have changed a lot in Manipur, still farmers rely on monsoon for rice cultivations. Their fate often depends on annual rainfall. Since there are no proper irrigation and drainage systems, often floods or drought leads to suffering and hardship to our farmers. On other hand, not only mechanisation of the cultivation process, all farmer depend more and more on fertilizers, pesticides and many other chemicals. However, farmers are not aware or ignore most of this impact with our environment. In fact, many insects, certain types of fishes as well as varieties of indigenous rice become extinct day by day. So, now as monsoon comes, these are the busiest days for farmers amid locked down with COVID-19 pandemic. 

Manipur has geographical area of 22,327 sq Kms. Out of this; the hill areas occupy around 20,047 sq Kms. The remaining area is the valley. According to the census of India 2011, total population of the state is around 27,27,743. Male and female population is around 50 per cent each. Hills and valley areas are 53 and 739 persons per sq Kms respectively. Total production of rice in the year 2011 was 4,10,000 MT.  Excluding infant population of around 81,832 (0-4 years), the requirements of rice for the remaining population is around 6,37,666 MT; estimating that an individual consumes around 660 gms of rice per day. Import from outside makes up the deficit rice requirement of around 2,17,666 MT, thus relegating Manipur to a food dependent status. It should be noted that, The Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2014 was passed in the state assembly. Still it is worthwhile to note that arable land area in the state has been reducing rapidly. These are because of construction of oil pumps, brick farms and private schools etc. by rich and powerful political and economic elites driven by profit motives. At the same time, there is unabated construction of government offices and buildings as well as establishment of military camps in the paddy fields. Such ventures not only reduced the area of agricultural land and productivity but also converted paddy fields into settlement areas, thereby adversely affecting the productive areas of Manipur.  Over and above there are no well maintain irrigation canals. As a result, the fate of farmer is decided by the annual monsoon. When the crop fails due to shortage or excess of rains, farmers are the ones who suffer. This happen precisely because there is no agricultural policy in Manipur that is sensitive to the needs and concerns of farmers and producers of Manipur and successive governments have failed to work proactively towards the betterment of the farmers as well as agricultural production in the state. Now it is time to introspect the situation and to work on appropriate alternative and sustainable solutions.

On other hand projects in the name of development, mega projects such as 105 MW Loktak multipurpose hydroelectric project submerged more than 50,000 acres of prime agricultural land. Mapithel Dam has submerged more than 2,000 hectares of prime agricultural and forestland. The proposed construction of 1,500 MW Tipaimukh Hydroelectric project will submerge more than 30,000 hectares of forest and agriculture land. In addition, the government has acquired 450 acres of prime agricultural land for expansion of the Tulihal International Airport. Similarly, 520 acre of land has been acquired by the state government for the construction of industrial growth project at Napetpalli, Lamlai, Imphal East District. Additionally, there are proposed plans to establish pony sanctuary park, construction of Cultural University, Sports University etc. These are only few examples; there are many more such instances, like the Trans Asian railway project under look east policy which passes through Manipur mostly through the prime agricultural land of valley area. There are plans of constructructing more than 35 multipurpose and hydro eclectic dams in Manipur.  The multiple of mega infrastructure, energy projects and projects, pursued in pretext of development in Manipur will lead to acquisition of extensive scale of agricultural lands, wetlands and forest that will undermine the food production capacity and subsequent food sovereignty of Manipur. All the prime agricultural land in hill districts will directly or indirectly be impacted with this introduction of large number of dams.  There are unresolved questions if India’s Act East Policy will benefit Manipur. The northeast becomes an important land bridge connecting between South Asia and Southeast Asia. However, the question remains how far Manipur or the entire northeast is likely to gain from Look East Policy, given that there are no productive units as well as when her agricultural lands are certainly affected. Act East policy is proven to intensify conscription of land and natural resources of Manipur.

Above illustrations are to highlight how agricultural land have come to be adversely affected in the name of development as well as in the absence of proper and suitable agricultural policy. Still we witness many constructions in prime agricultural lands whereas the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2014 implemented. The range of policies targeting land and resources of Manipur, like the New Land Use Policy of 2015, the Manipur Hydropower Policy 2012, the North East Hydrocarbon Vision, 2030 etc. will unleash impact on the livelihood and survival of the farmers.  Do we ever try to address issues faced by our farmer and struggle along with them against every form of oppression and exploitation of resources in Manipur. Do we ever try to encourage them and help ourselves to survive on our own with high productivity and minimising dependency on outside.  

It may be noted that, food sovereignty is the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.  It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation of our communities. We should think of strategy to resist and dismantle the current corporate trade and food regime that destroy indigenous food production system and we need to encourage directions for food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems determined by local producers. The government need to prioritise state economies and markets and empower peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability.  Crop insurance scheme for individual farmers and appropriate monthly pension for farmers is critical. The government should rethink the unsustainable development that unleashed development injustice in Manipur. The government should stop forced acquisition of people’s agricultural land and forest, vital for their physical and cultural survival. Unsustainable developments push like dam building, extractive industries, and large infrastructure that destroyed local food production system should be rescinded. Promoting defense of land and resources is critical for food sovereignty in Manipur. 

First Published:June 13, 2020, 4:47 p.m.

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