Beyond Salary Economy
The economy of Nagaland is really money transferred from Delhi to Kohima and back to the Indian mainland. It is like a conveyor belt. There is hardly any retention within Nagaland. This is because Nagaland has hardly anything of its own to sell! Look at our shops, they are all only retailers selling products that have been imported from outside. And when you have nothing of your own to sell, there is no possibility to retain anything, far less your economy growing.The chief minister, Mr Neiphiu Rio, has only been saying what everyone knows; that Nagaland’s economy is nothing but “salary economy” from funds provided by Government of India. All the people in the state depend on funds from Government of India for their livelihood, directly or indirectly. For quite some time now, the State has not faced RBI embargo but those who lived through those years know what the situation had been like. This was, perhaps, the reason why Mr Rio was making a point about “sacrificing” development funds to pay salaries of Government servants. Why such a situation has been reached is, of course, another matter!
The purpose of this piece, however, is to discuss some ways in which Nagaland’s economy may improve and the people of Nagaland may be able to retain or earn money. Mineral resources are being made a big thing at the moment. We all know the discussions going on in the area of oil and natural gas. Coal and other minerals may follow. Important as these are, they are also fraught with dangers of causing great rifts among our people. And there is the big question of whether a people divided with itself can actually grow and progress.
Moreover, Oil and natural gas and other minerals will affect or benefit only a section of the people. What about the rest? There is also the important consideration of the impact of wealth derived from such resources. One has so far not heard of adequate impact assessments having been made on these. Everyone is so carried away with the idea of probable immense wealth falling in the lap of the State that the kind of impacts these may have on the people has probably been simply ignored. We only want wealth and as quickly as possible.
Apart from the mineral resources, what are the other areas that could help our economy? The hope is still in land, its natural wealth and diversity. Broken down, one immediately sees the following areas which may bring benefits to the people. We may look at these separately.
(i) Agriculture and allied sectors particularly horticulture.
With about 70% of the people depending on agriculture and allied sectors for their livelihood, there is no question of Nagaland getting away from dependence on land for its economy. Dependence on this Primary Sector is acute. Moreover, if we look at the Secondary and Tertiary Sectors, we are basically just buyers and traders and not producers in the real sense. On the other hand, our land is so fertile that anything we cultivate grows so well and in abundance. Even the taste is so good.
The downsides are that our state is so small and the terrain does not allow plantation type of cultivation. So, production is difficult to be done on scale and its cost is also high. This makes competition with others very difficult. To some extent bulk production difficulties can be overcome through cluster production and by means of cooperative and joint collaborations although this still carries the difficulties of standardisation, cost effectiveness etc. The farmers also need to know market conditions, prices and price competitions etc. Pricing of goods in Nagaland is so arbitrary and costly that we immediately lose the competitive edge with others. This is where the Government needs to step in and intervene. Other State Governments do this to give competitive edge to their MSME sector.
Without such positive and beneficial intervention, telling the farmers to produce more is meaningless because, finally, unless there are markets for our products we will not be able to sell. Past experience has shown that cultivation and production of crops have never failed but the projects usually failed! Why? Because we were not conversant with the markets and market conditions or we just did not have markets for our products. Look at the Coffee Project, the Pineapple Project, the Ginger Project etc. The point is unless we have a proper marketing strategy and links, including training of farmers and skilled labour, all talks of production may prove in vain. At the moment, not much is felt because the entire production is almost entirely consumed within the State because we are a deficient State. But to make our people/State rich? That requires better preparation and positive action.
Another very important issue here is that we need to go organic and the sooner, the better. It is no longer enough to claim organic by default. No one is going to buy your goods because you claim your product is organic. You need proper certification. Indeed, the way things are, some years down the line, it is not difficult to imagine that unless you have organic certification you may not even be able to sell your goods, especially in the area of exports.
In short for sale of Naga products the following are required.
a)A proper marketing strategy including much infrastructure and giving a competitive edge to the MSME sector in the State.
b)Adequate warehousing, cold chains and manufacturing units. Without these, there can be no value addition of products.
c)A dry port for export either to other parts of India or abroad. Till date Nagaland does not even have refrigerated service for transport of agriculture products. A survey of the carrier services will immediately give the facts.
d) Proper certification, branding and packaging of products.
e) Above all, there must be enough power (electricity). Without adequate power, there is little point talking about production and earning.
ii) Forest wealth
Forest and natural wealth are great gifts to Nagaland by God. Timber used to bring great wealth but now there is hardly any timber left for commercial purposes unless new cultivation is done. With the destruction of virgin forests by timber merchants, a great deal of our biodiversity, as also water sources, have been destroyed. The imperatives of planned and selective development by State Government have further emasculated our natural wealth. These have happened and continuously happening even before a proper study of the wealth of our biodiversity. But what we still have can bring great wealth even now. What is required is a massive study of the biodiversity we have. The State must as quickly as possible establish a Biodiversity Institute for this purpose. Side by side, there must be established a modern seed bank of all the food, medicinal and other beneficial speci we have. This may require collaboration with some other established and well known institute/s. For instance, Nagaland is supposed to be part of the original home of the world’s rice. Tea is another example. Do we possess products that can help survival of humanity in the future?
Nagaland is rich not only in the biological diversity of plant and animal speci but the diversity and richness of our tribes and tribe cultures are also of great interest to others. Nagaland is still a gold mine for sociologists and anthropologists. The history of the region, including being part of the Alternative Silk Route to China, also puts us in solid position historically. The richness of our cultures and the natural beauty of the place bring many tourists to our `shores’. It is good that Nagaland Government has done the necessary cultural branding and created the Hornbill Festival as a signature event on an annual basis and also coining Nagaland as the Land of Festivals.
Cultural and eco tourism have been increasing in the State. Now there is a new opportunity as well. With the British voting the Battle of Kohima-Imphal as the most significant battle in the entire history of Britain, there is the opportunity for creating War Tourism. The Kohima Educational Society (KES), working with British veterans of WWII charity, the Kohima Educational Trust (KET), for education of Naga children has been discussing the possibility of observing the 70th anniversary of the War in April 2014. This is a great opportunity for Nagaland to also apply for UNESCO heritage tag for all the WWII monuments and significant sites. When the Darjeeling train can have this tag why not the WWII sites in Nagaland and Manipur? War tourism will only promote tourism in the State. As it is, many relatives of soldiers who fought here in 1944 from Britain, Japan and other places come every year to pay homage or simply visit the places where their relatives fought.
However, there needs to be adequate infrastructure for tourists. Even hotels become inadequate in Kohima during the Hornbill Festival. When special or specific tourists come for particular purposes, they need to receive the best we can offer. For instance, there is still no information centre and no proper guides to brief tourists about the WWII. Thankfully, an information centre to do this is already in the anvil to be looked after by the Kohima Educational Society. The centre is expected to be in place before April 2014.
Tourism can not only earn much money for the State but it can also earn much foreign exchange for Nagaland. But right facilities and right people must be in place.
iv) Look East Policy and Nagaland
In India’s Look East Policy, Nagaland falls on the route. The Asian Highway is already traversing our land and the four laning of Dimapur-Kohima road is on the anvil with required money approved by Government of India. So, too, the railway line up to Secü (Zubza). Like during WWII when Nagaland served as the base camp for much of the Burma Campaign, can Nagaland again serve as the “base transit camp” for goods passing through NE to South East Asia and Vice Versa? This will be a great opportunity for Nagaland to earn immense wealth. This can also be on a more permanent basis than petroleum which is a non-replenishable commodity. Manipur seems to be preparing for such a role already with improvement of their airport and trying to build the railway line to Imphal etc. But should Nagaland not try to get a piece of the cake?
The above are just a few ideas briefly mentioned. Each topic could do with much deeper discussion. Others will have more ideas. The above is only to start the ball rolling as it were.