There’s no reason to doubt that Goa’s new draft agriculture policy will be ready by January 2024. After that it will go through various levels of governance before being finally notified to lay down the agriculture roadmap of the State for the next 10 to 12 years.
An agriculture policy for Goa is pertinent not just given the need to feed a growing population but to simultaneously boost the declining rural economic growth. Crucially, the policy will have to take into account climate change and its impact on agricultural production.
The state’s agricultural indicators appear to be fairly good. According to the agriculture department, Goa’s paddy cultivation is close to the national average of four tonnes per hectare. In the kharif season, the area under cultivation is 22,569 hectares and the average yield is 4,184 kgs per hectare. In the rabi season, the area under cultivation is 8,950 hectares with the average yield at 4,264 kgs per hectare.
Additionally, Goa’s agriculture sector reports less use of chemicals compared to other States in India. Also, its soil quality parameters are better in comparison to many other States in the country. Given this, the new agriculture policy will have to specify measures to further protect soil and water quality given the rapid pace of development.
But Goa has one aspect that does not find comparison with the rest of India. In the current scenario, Goa’s land, agricultural land in particular, is under siege and that doesn’t bode well for farming. The commercial real estate lobby, which works for profits, is now powerful and could influence the final agriculture policy.
Real estate has been one of the major reasons for the decline in agricultural activities across the countryside. In Goa, though it can’t be said with certainty, there is reason to believe that Delhi and Mumbai realtors are out to convert their black money into white by buying agricultural land and then gradually bribing corrupt officials to convert it for commercial use. How else do we explain the rampant filling of low-lying fields, massive hill-cutting and the real estate fraud or land grab that we have seen over the last few years?
The Goa agriculture policy will be meaningful if it takes into account basic crop research and development at the local level. This becomes pertinent in the face of global climate change which makes it important for farmers to go in for climate-resilient crops.
According to the agriculture department, the need for organic farming will be given fresh thrust in the new policy. Our villages, which have an abundance of natural resources, are already practising, if not organic farming, something that is quite close to it.
The policy will have to take into account farmers’ well-being and ensure that government schemes reach them in time. One of the main objectives of the agriculture policy should be to insulate farmers against inflation by encouraging them to produce more and at the same time incentivising their produce.
The success of the new agriculture policy, once notified, will be defined by how it meets its production and conservation goals and builds a positive and healthy farming ecosystem in the State.
The new policy framework will have to ensure Goa grows maximum food within its borders and does not depend too much on States like Karnataka and Maharashtra for its vegetable requirements.
Also, considering the fact that agriculture impacts people’s health, the policy will have to focus on what they eat. It will have to propound the idea that Goa’s happiness index will depend on the successful co-existence of the natural world and its people's well-being.