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Op-Ed

My Years in Service

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By EMN Updated: Apr 10, 2014 11:59 pm
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At this stage we were clearly aware that the farmers would be ill prepared to go in for mass production of any crop unless they were supplied with sufficient quality seeds but most of all, a guarantee that their production would be purchased. To the extent possible, quality seed procurement for the selected crops had to be prioritized. The marketability of our product had to also be studied very carefully. NEPED was roped in for this exercise.

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]Y one year four months tenure in the Housing Department was basically uneventful and NEPED took up the best part of all the focused attention. However on 22nd September 2000, my 23rd transfer in 23 years of service was received to take over the Department of Agriculture. NEPED needed to closely net work this department and now that the opportunity had presented itself we anticipated productive times ahead. After a careful analysis of the Department’s existing priorities through several sittings with the officers we worked out our road map to enhance productivity and improve upon the traditional agricultural practices. It was felt necessary that, in order to intimately know each of our village potentialities, we would have to undergo data collection to assess the true agricultural status. With this in mind a State wide operation of each village data collection was put in motion. The District and Sub Divisional officers were provided with ‘key questions’ in the Agri. & Allied sectors for answers, which could open the door to significant changes and innovations in the existing agricultural practices for a bio-dynamic farming approach that could resolve the long term sustenance issue. The team of dedicated and enthusiastic field staffs went forth into a war footing mode and did a remarkable job of data collection village by village. The data analysis and compilation was a complex exercise which was diligently undertaken by Mr. Z. Kikon, Jt. Director, Dr.(Mrs.) Amenla, Lady Training Officer and Mr. Limachan, Computer Assistant. Finally a comprehensive and a reasonably dependable village portfolio was completed in the form of “Nagaland Village Profile 2001”. This proved to be a useful tool in the future planning process of the Department and would have served a greater purpose had Planning Department at the policy level paid attention and encouraged all the development departments with rural orientation to make use of it. The need for continued updating of the data was also neglected by the parent department eventually and “Nagaland Village Profile 2001” must now be collecting dust, lying unused in some dingy corner in the Agri. Directorate. Be that as it may, it was a tremendous effort carried out by the officers and staffs of the department who deserved the acknowledgement that they received on completion of the task. I still hold the opinion that this village profile document has not outlived its relevance and that the Government of Nagaland should dig it up and make appropriate use of it.
The creation of Local Area Network (LAN) within the Directorate of Agriculture was another milestone that no other Departments had perceived, least of all do, at that time. This was the first of its kind. Mr. Z. Kikon spearheaded this task. We had a server with eight computer links. Each computer was assigned a dedicated subject of priority such as Planning cell, production , marketing etc. We were now able to access any information on any issue on a moment’s notice…a leap forward in the management system of the department. Late Mr. Huskha Swu, the Hon’ble Minister Agriculture inaugurated its launch. With the support base infrastructure we were now prepared to get down to the more serious business of production.
We had observed that the effort of a rural farmer was more commonly limited to a production to meet the kitchen requirements and an insignificant surplus for income augmentation by supplying the short term local market demands. The market force strongly dictated the attitude of the farmers in relation to their production, knowing well that any surplus would go waste for lack of marketing outlet and cold storage facility. A comprehensive strategy had to therefore be structured for commercial scale production and marketing. In keeping with this appraisal we felt that cold storage was also a critical infrastructure requirement that needed to be established in every District. This brought us to the proverbial puzzle of ‘the chicken or the egg’ complexity: when this subject was broached with the Ministry of Agriculture, GoI, their focus was on the existing quantum of production which would warrant the establishment of cold storages. We were looking at the cold storage establishment as a source of encouragement for the farmers to produce on a commercial scale. The department was ill equipped, fund-wise, to create our cold storage facility independently. As a result we had no viable option but to put the cold storage proposition in a non-existent cold storage until our production situation improved.
The department then focused on soil testing in each District in order to identify the best suitable crop which could be adopted by the farmers for a commercial scale production. Our Medziphima laboratory worked full steam with all the soil samples being brought in. It was however a very slow process which would go on for an indefinite period. We had to work on crops that the farmers knew best for the time being.Every household in the village would get involved in the production of the adopted crop besides their staple crop…paddy. A cluster of villages would be targeted for production of the same adopted crop for mass production. We termed this as a Crop zoning exercise. The next step that we addressed was the marketing network for channelizing the products. Though marketing cell was in existence in the Directorate, it was a relegated dormant entity without work. They had to be woken up to mount a marketing campaign as perceived. This resulted in the Department setting up Village Marketing Committees (VMC) in the crop zoned sectors along with Agricultural Production and Marketing Committees (APMC) in all the District HQs to provide grassroots linkage. At this stage we were clearly aware that the farmers would be ill prepared to go in for mass production of any crop unless they were supplied with sufficient quality seeds but most of all, a guarantee that their production would be purchased. To the extent possible, quality seed procurement for the selected crops had to be prioritized. The marketability of our product had to also be studied very carefully. NEPED was roped in for this exercise. After an extensive research of the market, NEPED brought out a few crops that was market worthy…ginger was one. In coordination with NEPED therefore bulk ginger rhizomes were procured from reputed firms including those from Shillong, and distributed to the crop zoned farmers and the NEPED villages. It was also necessary to insulate village production with an assured guaranteed market. This prompted the department to consider a buy back revolving capital for the APMCs. The Department was however, unable to cater to the revolving fund scheme due to lack of budget for this new initiative at that time.
Streamlining the above policy approach into a working formation at the field level was a time consuming affair. The need to work with the season often ran into conflict in terms of timely financial investment that bureaucratic norm did not facilitate. The Department initiated an APMC pilot project in Kuhuboto (considering its close proximity to the commercial hub of Dimapur) to test the workability of this new initiative. 12 villages under this Sub Division were initially called in for a meeting. They had come for this meeting with high expectation that the Government would be offering them grants and subsidies. When the factual issue was shared with them they were initially discouraged. We nevertheless went through the motion and reviewed the existing market potential. Each village confirmed that the surplus annual paddy production in their respective villages was commercially exploited by the non-local businessmen. They would by pay 30/40% of the actual cost of paddy per measuring tin in advance to the needy farmers at the start of cultivation season. They would then collect the same on harvest without additional cost. The subject of APMC and VMC was explained…that the APMC would provide crop advance to the needy farmers through the VMCs and would buy back the paddy at a wholesale rate from the farmers after harvest. After a threadbare discussion on the working mechanism, the objectives and the benefits thereof, the villager clearly understood that the farmers would stand to gain a fairer price through their VMCs/APMCs as compared to the existing practice. The Department then made commitment to construct their APMC Office cum godown at Kuhuboto if they were prepared to take this challenge. Thereafter, when the proposal that each village buy Rs.50,000/- per share to build up the revolving fund for the APMC (which was to be constituted by a member representative from each member village) there was a huge ruckus. This fund would be disbursed by the APMC through the VMC to the needy farmers at a fairer price as a buy back advance. Despite their initial scepticism they finally settled for Rs.30,000/- per share. It was then that all the other villages under Kuhuboto, having subsequently heard of this programme, complained to me of partiality. All the 22 villages in this Sub Division were therefore given the option to participate. Some of the villages bought more than one share and ultimately raised an amount of Rs.5,00,000/- approximately as a revolving capital. The VMCs then clamped down on advance funding by non-local businessmen in their respective villages and instead took over the advances through the revolving fund under the APMC. The department kept its promise and constructed the APMC office cum godown. Mr. Ikuto the then SDAO Dimapur was given strict instruction to assist and supervise the functioning of the APMC.
He did a commendable job, diligently investing quality time with the APMC on a weekly basis. Within the first harvesting the season APMC Kuhuboto was able to rake in a handsome margin of profit from the sale of paddy that had been collected from all the villages in their Sub Division. They did not have to incur any additional transportation cost since the paddy procurers purchased it directly from their godown. With the help of the department, SBI loan for tractor and trailer was also arranged for Kuhuboto APMC the next year. This was used for transportation of the VMC’s ‘buy back’ paddy after harvest to the APMC godown and hiring it out for other purpose during the off season. This loan was repaid within the normal stipulated time without default. The new strategy initiative had worked marvellously. It was now up to the Department to capitalise on this success story as a bench mark for creating the revolving fund through the Government for all the APMCs, now being formed in every District.

The writer is a retired IAS Officer, Forest Colony, Kohima

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By EMN Updated: Apr 10, 2014 11:59:45 pm