Farmers in Mizoram sceptical of 'empty promises' made by parties, but hope for reforms after Vidhan Sabha elections

Farmers in Mizoram sceptical of 'empty promises' made by parties, but hope for reforms after Vidhan Sabha elections

Farmers in Mizoram sceptical of 'empty promises' made by parties, but hope for reforms after Vidhan Sabha elections

Mizoram is a small and highly fertile land with a population of over 11 lakh - with 70 per cent of the state’s population working in the farming sector. However, the story of farmers in Mizoram is grim. With no regulated market around, many farmers engage with middlemen from Assam without sustainable profit, while the others sell their produce locally. 

Dr. Tridip Kumar Hazarika, associate professor, MSc (Agri) in Horticulture at the Mizoram University, acknowledges the problem, and says that if the marketing channels are streamlined, the middlemen system will be abolished and a farmers’ co-operative marketing system can be developed, allowing them to sell their produce for the right prices.

Take the example of Sesawng - a village a few kilometres east of the capital Aizawl. The village is famous for cultivating banana and other seasonal crops. Every Friday evening, farmers of the Sesawng Field Veng (locality) would hire around a dozen vehicles for transporting their crops to the various bazaars in Aizawl, as Saturday is the main market day in Mizoram. They would have sit there till Saturday evening, but their seats are only temporarily allotted to them for Saturday by the local council of the various market localities, by paying an amount of approximately Rs. 10/feet. Failing to secure a space for themselves in the market, they have to set up shop in makeshift markets on the footpaths and roadsides, making it inconvenient.

The vendors report early to market - 4-4:30am - as they want to sell off the produce before sunset and travel back to their homes. As Sunday is an important for church-goers, getting back to their villages on time is essential.

Vanlalzauva, vice president of the Sesawng Field Veng Bazar Association and a farmer himself, said, “Majority of the farmers from Sesawng do not get subsidies from the government to buy seeds, manure or pesticides. Whatever manure we use is organically prepared ourselves.”

Vanlalzauva added that they do not receive aid from the government nor the All Mizoram Farmers' Union (AMFU). The reason being that few AMFU members are active members of the Congress, and it is only the party members who reap the benefits provided by the current government, say the villagers.

He also complained that there are many instances where heavy rains and strong winds from February to March destroy their crops. Erratic rainfall patterns have also become a common phenomenon in the state. They would often write a complaint to the village council, but don't know how to approach higher officials. Their complaints usually end at the office of the district Block Division Officer.

Congress spokesman Prof Lallianchhunga said that there are no provisions for crop insurance as the procedure is highly complicated. Many departments are involved to assess the damage, and officers feel that there isn't enough manpower or funds.

'Government keeping farmers impoverished for votebank'

In response to these complaints, Zion Lalremruata, General Secretary of the AMFU, said, “The famers' complaints in the last ten years are all true. The AMFU, as an NGO, is tasked to assist the government to uplift these farmers. The union is not associated with any political party, we can only help those farmers included in our project area. The current government's flagship programme - New Land Use Policy (NLUP) - benefits very few, despite Rs. 400 crore being allocated for promotions.”

Various farmers union leaders believe that the current government wants the farmers and commonmen to stay impoverished so that their votes can be bought easily. They believe that although the NLUP manual sounds good on paper, in practice, it does not reach the people who can benefit the most from it. They feel that it is just a policy to fatten up their own party members and workers.

Lallianchhunga, responding to this, said, "Ever since the Congress started the NLUP, the farmers have been one of its targets. Many farmers have left Jhum cultivation for commercial cropping, which, in a way, affected the production of food grains. Therefore, policymakers have been trying to woo these farmers to concentrate on foodgrain production. A balance should be maintained between foodgrain production and plantation of commercial crops for our small economy. The NEDP is trying to achieve this objective,” he said.

AMFU is the only farmer’s union in Mizoram, which is mainly involved in organising rallies, like the one organised on September 28, pushing the government to establish a regulated marketing system and introduce land reforms. In an interview, Zion Lalremruata, General Secretary, AMFU, spoke about the need to establish a proper marketing channel and revising land reforms. He strongly criticizes the current government for not continuing the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act of 2008 passed by the MNF, as he feels that it is the first, strong step to market agricultural produce from Mizoram. Lalremruata also accused the Congress of discontinuing the Act solely for the purpose of promoting the NLUP.

Prof Lallianchhunga opposed these statements by saying that the only reason the Act was discontinued was because it did not safeguard the farmers, nor get them any profits.

Interestingly, on the contrary, the APMC Act aimed at establishing private market yards and direct purchase of produce from farmers; promoting and permitting e-trading details; direct sale by the producer, among other provisions for the benefit of farmers.

Dr. Hazarika said that the NLUP was implemented in Mizoram in 2011, which discouraged jhum cultivation, which adversely affects the soil's health. He says that the NLUP, though changed the socio-economic life of the farmers, can still be improved.

“The number of activities under the NLUP can be increased across sectors, like under horticulture, spices can be included; under pisciculture, ornamental fish can be included, and so on.The aims and objectives of NLUP should be broadcasted so that all the beneficiaries are well aware about the scheme,” he said.

AMFU’s vision is to have a regulated market scheme inside Mizoram without depending on Bagha, Silchar and Karimganj syndicates in Assam. The Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (APLM) Act 2017 has been vetted by the Department of Law. Lalremruata said that the traders from Bagha resort to unethical acts in dealing with farmers from Mizoram. A good example is when they buy ginger from Mizo farmers, they wait for the farmers to reach a state of desperation just to sell the produce at a much lower rate. These syndicates then export the ginger to other Indian merchants at high rates. He feels that once APLM Act is passed, they will have to conduct their trade within Mizoram, where the prices set by the farmers can be protected.

Lalremruata says that they will be pushing for it to be passed at the State Assembly Budget session next year, and hopes that this Act will check inflation and help in establishing a wholesale marketing yard inside Mizoram.

The congress spokesman added, "As long as the APLM Act’s focus is on the welfare of the farmers, the Congress will support it. It is the Congress both at the Centre and state, which gives lands to landless farmers, while the BJP takes away their precious land for crony capitalists.”

The bulk of produce - oranges, betel nut, and ginger - are exported. While attending the Indo-Dhaka Expo of 2015, Lalremruata learned that the Bangladeshis want to directly import produce, in particular spices like ginger and turmeric without going through middlemen from Karimganj, Silchar and Bagha. When the produce from Mizoram is sold through middlemen from Assam, they suffer a loss of almost 70 per cent. Once the APLM Act is passed, the farmers will have a good market for just these two spices alone.

Saithuama, the ZPM media department General Secretary, said that their party's plan is to sell ginger at Rs. 50/kg when they import directly without going through the middlemen. He added that the party plans to have special processing units for spices like ginger, chilli, culantro and turmeric.

Lalremruata condemned the Congress government of failing to implement an act to export ginger despite having a meeting at the Chief Minister’s office on April 16, 2017. The meeting concluded that the Commissioner of Commerce and Industries would implement an Act within two months, but that did not happen. It resulted in a protest rally on September 28 where AMFU President Joseph H Thanzuala strongly condemned the Congress for refusing to uplift the farmers and alleged the government is using the NLUP for political gains.

*Farmers say empty promises by parties*

The AMFU general secretary also asked the government to launch land reforms. The land holding system during the Mizo District Council was revised and the Mizoram Land Revenue Act of 2013 was passed. The main defect of this Act is that it does not give much emphasis to agricultural lands.

Lalremruata said that Mizoram has vast tillable lands, but a majority of it is owned by a wealthy few. Whenever developmental projects are taken up, the government spends a fortune on compensation money. The Union wants these privately-owned lands to be converted into agricultural lands and promote afforestation. They also want the introduction of the Land Ceiling Act to be introduced so that each family is allotted property according to capacity. Lalremruata praised the success of this Act in Gujarat saying when farmers grow crops within their capacity, the produce is of better quality and quantity.

Saithuama added that if their party forms the government, they plan on communitisation - where development committees will be formed at village/block/district-levels, with members comprising church elders, farmers, businessmen, etc. Whatever is required at the block-level, will be discussed with the members (similar to what is practiced in Nagaland). He also stated that each committee will be monitored by the MLAs of the respective constituencies. He mentions the party’s plans to engage with Bangladesh, Europe, and Israel in agricultural export. Also, he promised that tenders will be opened at national and international-levels.

As Mizoram goes to polls in a few days, all political parties, in their manifestos, promise to uplift the farmers. However, farmers are skeptical of these empty promises, as they feel no party holds true to their manifestos. Regardless, the farmers want to vote for the party they feel can help them, while hoping for the best.


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