Covid-19 shut down and pointers for agriculture sector in Arunachal Pradesh

[ Dr Gopa Kumaran Nair ]
Normal life in Arunachal Pradesh has come to a standstill since 23 March, 2020 as a precautionary step to prevent Covid-19. Though it is too early to realistically assess the impact of prolonged shut-down on various segments of the economy, the restrictions laid, have revealed certain pointers for contemplation. One of the major revelations of the shutdown, no doubt, is the recognition of the importance of food economy of the state and the need for framing policies to tackle the issues cropped up.
Arunachal Pradesh, with larger geographical area and just 5 percent of population, as compared to Assam, struggles to attain self-sufficiency in feeding its population. Published data on food grain production at 4.62 lakh tones during 2017-18 indicates that the state is surplus over its requirements. However, the state’s annual rice off-take from national pool continues to be in the range of 0.85 lakh tones to 1.0 lakh tones during the last decade, hinting at overstatement of production data.
There are views that the geo-physical constraints prevent horizontal expansion of farming in the state, but proper utilization of land put under cultivation, without any doubt, is far from optimum. The current outbreak and movement restrictions that followed, perhaps warrant a deviation from the present traditional agricultural practices, like Jhum cultivation to a commercial, high productivity cultivation and generation of marketable surplus to cater to entire need of the state.
At present, availability of vegetable and fruits during the shutdown period is the major concern, especially in cities. The climate condition and availability of land and water in at least half of the districts in the state is highly conducive for cultivation of a good number of vegetable to meet the domestic requirements, including cool season vegetable. Despite cultivation of certain vegetable in some pockets and their exports to other states, the state mainly sources essential vegetables and fruits from other states.
Farmers’ collectives, such as FPOs in the state, have proved to be very effective even in emergency periods. Diyun Farmer Producer Organisation, promoted by the NABARD in Changlang district, and the Arunachal Farmer Producer Cooperative Society in Sagalee, Papum Pare have been helping the public by way of supply of fresh home grown vegetables. The district administrations have permitted the FPOs to sell and provide door delivery of the vegetables.
The eating habits of the majority of the state population demand more meat and animal originated products. Pork constitutes more than 60 percent of the total animal origin products in the state, while the remaining includes eggs, milk, etc. In spite of favourable rearing conditions prevailing, the state’s requirement for meat and animal originated food products are met from other states, on account of low productivity and thereby non-viability of the investments. In spite of several subsidy linked programmes, a corresponding change in the production in such products are yet to be realized in the state.
One of the essentials to be addressed in the state is the lack of storage infrastructure, especially for agriculture produces. The present movement restrictions coupled with poor road connectivity, warrant a decentralized, safe and scientific storage infrastructure in the state in view of the vast geographical area to be served. Facilities available under the Government of India schemes, such as the Warehouse Infrastructure Fund need to be tapped for the creation of storage facilities.
The state depends on other states heavily for supply of inputs to agriculture sector. While the crops pattern and agricultural practices followed were less input intensive, non-availability on account of restrictions may severely affect the production process. The reliance on migrant labour for agriculture and allied activities, MSME, construction, shops, etc., has also created hardships in the state.
Large share of labourers are from neighboring states and have already returned to their native places, leaving uncertainty on their rejoining works. The state may have to formulate an attractive policy providing support and safety to the migrant workers to allure them back to the state.
The foregoing give a clear indication on re-framing our policies and approach and re-aligning subsidy linked schemes tilted in favour of targeting self-sufficiency in food-grain production, promotion of vegetable cultivation, collectivization of farmers, infrastructure creation (especially storage and connectivity), thrust on allied sectors, etc. (The contributor is General Manager, NABARD Arunachal Pradesh Regional Office at Itanagar. All views and opinions expressed are personal)