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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Celebration of World Honey Bee Day- 19th August 2017

                                                                                         -By Canning S Shabong
Shri.R.V.Lyngdoh, Hon. Minister Speaking at the Inaugural Function

INTRODUCTION:

The Directorate of Horticulture, Meghalaya and Meghalaya Small Farmer’s Agri Business Consortium,(MgSFAC) which is the nodal agency for implementing the centrally sponsored scheme 'Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture' (MIDH) in the State observed the World Honey Bee Day on 19th August 2017 at the Integrated Agriculture Training Centre,(IATC) 7th Mile, Upper Shillong. The theme of the observation was “Bee Keeping for Livelihood and Sustainable Development

The day long function, which was participated by 500 farmers from across the State, include the Inaugural session, Exhibition cum Sales of Honey products and bye products, Seminar for farmers and entertainment by the local band “Colors”.  The event was also participated by Department of Commerce and Industries, Government of Meghalaya, Meghalaya Institute of Entrepreneurship (MIE), Khadi and Village Industries Board (KVIB), Rural Resource Training Centre (RRTC) etc.  
  
The event was inaugurated by Shri. R.V. Lyngdoh, Hon’ble Minister of Arts & Culture, Soil & Water Conservation & Urban Affairs, Government of Meghalaya. The Minister also inaugurated the Exhibition cum Sales of honey and honey products, which were put on display by State Government undertaking like Khadi and Village Industries Board (KVIB), NGO’s like Rural Resource Training Centre(RRTC), entrepreneurs, farmers and local startups. The prominent exhibitors are Ms. Eva Lyngdoh, Bee keeper and Mr. Vijay Byrsat from the Centre of Learning Knowledge & Services (COLK), Shillong which displayed its "BIE" brand of honey products.

INAUGURATION:

The Inaugural Function was attended by Smt. M.N.Nampui, IAS, Secretary to the Government of Meghalaya, Agriculture Department, Shri. R.S.Gill, IFS, Addl. PCCF, Forest Department and Smt. D.Syiemiong, Director of Horticulture.

Speaking during the function, the Secretary Agriculture informed the gathering that the Government of India through the Ministry of Agriculture has seen it fit to honor these small insects that hover around us, bringing life and pollination. She also underlined the importance and role played by the honeybees for livelihood and agriculture development in the State.

Shri. R.S.Gill, IFS in his brief speech said that "honoring the honey bee is like honoring our own life, our capacity to live healthily, think healthily and to contribute to our society". Therefore, the honeybee is a part of our personality, our society and our country.

During the Inaugural Function, the Chief Guest, Shri. R.V.Lyngdoh said that this humble insect is so important and crucial to our survival that its extinction will also ensure extinction of mankind. He also expressed his happiness to see that many other departments are also taking part in this observation of World Honey Bee Day. He also informed the farmers that in United States there was a period where the crop production had fallen and Research Scientist attributed that this to the decrease in bee population. He therefore said that it is appropriate that we should observe this day to remind us of the important role played by bees in pollination and agriculture production.

Others who spoke during the function were Smt. D.Syiemiong, Director of Horticulture,  Shri. G. Shylla, District Horticulture Officer, Ri-Bhoi and Shri. Crosspillar Marak, District Horticulture Officer, West Garo Hills.

Honey Bee products on display by Department of Agriculture

EXHIBITORS:
1.      Department of Commerce and Industries, Meghalaya
2.      Khadi and Village Industries Board (KVIB), Shillong
3.    District Horticulture Offices, East Garo Hills, East Khasi Hills, West Jaintia Hills, Ri-Bhoi, South West Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills.
4.      M/s COLKs Enterprise
5.      Ms. Eva B. Lyngdoh
6.      M/s H.L/ Candles (Bee Wax Candles)

CONCLUSION:
The observation of World Honey Bee Day on 19th August was the first of its kind event held in the State, which witnessed participation by 500 farmers, bee keepers, honeybee product entrepreneurs, Scientist, Practitioners, NGO’s and department officials from all over the State. The event also attracted visitors, buyers to the exhibition and most of the honey on display was sold out on the day. Buyers were also given a free specially ordered "honey bee bag" with every purchase of honey. The Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya expresses its heartfelt thanks to the Ministry of Agriculture for deciding to observe this event, to create awareness about the role played by honey bees in pollination and as a means of livelihood for farmers.

(The Writer currently works as Assistant Director of Agriculture (info & IT), Department of Agriculture Meghalaya and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Angela Shangoi- A Successful Model Woman Farmer

                                                                               
Fig.1: Smt.Angela Shangoi receiving the Award at New Delhi
        Smt. Angela Shangoi is one of the leading female progressive farmer from Umyiap valley, Mawkynbat village of West Khasi Hills district, who has made a mark in farming. Owning farmland of 4 hectares, she uses to grow local paddy variety which yield only 1.5- 1.8 MT per hectare. After the introduction of the centrally sponsored scheme, National Food Security Mission(NFSM) scheme, she started growing HYV paddy, variety MEG II which was procured from the District Agriculture Office. From the crop cutting experiment, her paddy field yielded about 3.8 MT of paddy per hectare. She is also a paddy registered seed grower with the district and shares the variety along with other fellow farmers of the village.
            Being a progressive farmer, she also grows Maize, field pea on her land which fetches very high returns even in the local market. Besides she also grows carrot, beetroot,bean and other vegetables. She is also able to market her marketable surplus in the market fetching regular returns.
            She is incidentally, one of the pioneering farmer who have taken the lead to grow large scale Pea Cultivation in her paddy field usually left fallow during the winter months. With assured irrigation from the nearby hill,  in a 1(one) hectare land, she planted around 75 kg of pea seed during the 2nd week of December and harvested during the first week of April fetching a total yield of 4 Metric Tonnes. This timing has been well calibrated to take advantage of the lean period of supplies from the plains of Assam, thereby able to fetch an average wholesale price of Rs. 40-50 per Kg in the wholesale market in Shillong. This fetches her gross profit of around Rs. 90,000-1.00 lakh per hectare.
            Her next winter vegetable that earned her good returns is Carrot which she planted during the month of January and harvest by 3rd week of April. She is able to get Rs. 30-50 rupees per Kg in wholesale market. From Carrot she is able to earn around 50,000/- of gross return.
Besides Pea and Carrot which she grows in large scale, she also grows Color Capsicum in a 250 Sq.Metres Greenhouse provided by the District Horticulture Office. Other vegetables that she grows in smaller scale are Coriander, Beetroot, Cucumber, Brinjal and Tomato.
            During the year 2012-13, she formed a Self Help Group (SHG) called “Iatreilang SHG” with 10 members. She is the President of the SHG and under her leadership; all the members are emulating her footsteps and collectively work for the benefit of the group. On March 2015, the Office of the District Horticulture Officer also provided her group with a Bolero Pickup Jeep for transportation and evacuation of her produces to the wholesale market in Shillong. With this transport vehicle, she is able to swiftly market her produce to the capital city Shillong on market days. She also subscribed to the wholesale market prices SMS provided by the department of agriculture, which she receives on her mobile phone and rely on this free information service before taking her vegetable to market. 
           
Fig. 2: Smt Angela Shangoi at her village at Mawkynbat
          Smt. Angela Shangoi inspite of all odds and supporting a family of 8 school and college going children, through sheer hard work, strong determination and leadership qualities has set a fine example for the district of West Khasi Hills and has endeared herself even to the higher ups in the Department who knows her by name and acknowledge her hard work by recognising her in State and district level crop competition.
Usually, its very difficult to grow any crop during the winter months due to stray cattle and horses, which are let loose to feed and graze on the field after harvesting of paddy. Angela and her group members had to build a fence made from locally available materials, to protect their winter crop from grazing by cows and horses. Though this effort, she could protect her pea crop from the animals and hence fetch a good price as she got to harvest and market the crop during off-season in the plains of Assam.
On March 2016, she was conferred the Agriculture Minister’s Krishi Karman Award as outstanding farmer and received a cash prize of Rs. 2.0 lakhs along with a citation from the Prime Minister of India. On reaching back home from New Delhi, instead of spending the cash award money on buying consumer goods, she invested the award money on buying a brand new Power Tiller to further her farming enterprise. This shows the outstanding quality of the lady to improve her farming through technology induction. 
The exemplary example of this woman farmer has made her village of Mawkynbat and Umiap take up to Pea cultivation in a big scale and today the entire fertile Umyiap valley is dotted with pea and carrot cultivation, after seeing the successes of this lady farmer. 

(The Writer works as Assistant Director of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture Meghalaya and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

UMLAKRO FARM – Model for Sustainable Horticulture Tourism Development

                                                                                                            -C.S.Shabong

A View of Umlakro Farm at Jirang, Ri-bhoi District

During the British rule when Meghalaya was part of undivided Assam, Khasi Mandarin Oranges were reported to be growing in abundance in the hill tract under Jirang C&RD Block of Ri-Bhoi district. However, lack of adoption of scientific procedure for cultivation and management practices caused poor productivity and these trees began to decrease vigorously thus leading to citrus decline and dieback. The District Horticulture Office begun to explore ways and means how to regain back the past glories and today Umlakro Farm has emerged as a model of sustainable horticulture development combining modern hitech horticulture technology with horti-tourism.

The genesis of this story took roots when the Department of Agriculture was gifted 7 hectares of land from the Syiem of Jirang and his Durbar in the year 2004, with the expectation that the land could be used for the overall development and upliftment of agriculture in the region under Jirang C&RD Block.

During 2009, this land was transferred to the Directorate of Horticulture to develop but it was only in 2012 that the office of the District Horticulture officer, Ri-Bhoi could start work on the project for setting up a horticulture farm. Thus Umlakro farm was created to not only re-nurture Khasi Mandarins, but also to experiment with other citrus varieties like Nagpur Orange, Assam Lemon, Sweet Orange. The farm also aims to provide farmers of the district with high quality seeded and budded plants. Furthermore, the farm will also facilitate students of Horticulture to conduct in-depth study on the functional, productivity, efficiency and a holistic understanding of oranges, mandarins and lemon. Students will also be able to learn from the farm through hands on approach which will enhance their personal development.

In the past, the life of a farmer is dictated by the weather gods -when the rain god, the sun god, the god of the earth are favourable on them, the farmer can begin to rejoice and thank the heavens for their season’s harvest. But apparently all the rituals practiced by our farmers and their sacrifices have become futile with the changing time and technology has taken over many aspects of farming. With the aim of bringing development closer to the people in the villages, creating basic infrastructure to provide gainful employment opportunities for the people and empower them so that they may have the liberty to work as employers rather than employees, the Directorate of Horticulture released fund of Rs. 6.25 lakhs for developing basic infrastructure construction of shade  house, overhead water tank and land development to develop Umlakro as a model horticulture farm.

A Birds Eye View of the Farm 
Furthermore, after conducting adequate studies on the land, soil and climate of the area, the horticulture development officer in-charge of the farm opted to raise mother plants in order to  produce quality planting materials of different citrus crops  such  as  the famed Khasi Mandarin, Assam Lemon, Sweet Orange etc. The Office began to treat Umlakro Farm as a future hub which would provide quality planting  materials  to neighbouring  villages and  their  farmers.  A model Floriculture Centre was also set up during the year 2013-2014 as the area was found suitable for the cultivation of flowers such as Dendrobium, Phalaenopsis and Blue Vanda.

Before these intervention by the District Horticulture Office Nongpoh, Jirang was known for  widespread jhum cultivation practices broom grass cultivation  and timber logging. The forests in the State are major carbon sinks and home to agro-biodiversity which needs to be protected  adequately. Jhum cultivation leads to removal of tons of biomass, higher rate of run-off of rainwater leading to drinking water shortage and even drought.

Today the farm has managed to integrate horti-tourism elements alongside establishment of modern nurseries for citrus, poly houses, mother blocks, hi tech green houses, water harvesting structures, power generators, vermi compost units, root stock blocks etc.  

(The Writer works as Assistant Director of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture Meghalaya and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Meghalaya State Agricultural Marketing Portal wins in eNorth East Award 2016

-C.S.Shabong

Team Members receiving the Trophy from Dr.C. Lyngdoh, Chief Guest

Meghalaya State Agricultural Marketing Portal (www.megamb.gov.in), an online web based Agriculture Market Information System (AMIS), which was designed, developed and hosted by NIC Meghalaya in collaboration with the Directorate of Horticulture, Meghalaya and Meghalaya State Agricultural Marketing Board was awarded the RUNNERS UP place in the eNorth East Award 2016, under the category e-Governance and Citizen Services Delivery, which witnessed 11 nominees presenting their projects before a 3 member panel of eminent experts as Jury Members. The Experts were from IT Department, Government of Meghalaya, IIM Shillong and IT department Govt of Sikkim. 

The Meghalaya State Agriculture Marketing Portal was first launched in the year 2005 and then again revamped in 2014 with Microsoft .NET framework and MS Sql Server 2008 as the back end RDBMS database. The portal is hosted in NIC National Data Centre, New Delhi which is a 3 tier datacentre. The site has received more than 31000 web hits and is being used regularly by the farmers and the traders from the State as well as other parts of the country. 

All the finalist team had to give a five minutes presentation in front of the jury members who then awarded points under several parameters like Innovation Challenge, Implementation Plan, Timelines, People Benefitted, Scope of Replication and Revenue Model.  The 5 minutes presentation was followed up by another 2 minutes of questioning by the jury members. After the score were compiled, the Winner and Runner’s up were selected from each category.
Our team was represented by C.S.Shabong, Assistant Director of Agriculture, Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya and Aiborlang Wanswett, Principal System Analyst, NIC Meghalaya who gave a power point presentation in front of the jury members and also replied to all the queries and questioning by each jury member.

Given below is the list of Challengers under the category: E-GOVERNANCE & CITIZEN SERVICES DELIVERY which comprised of 11 nominations having the largest number of nominees under the category.
-Online Monthly Expenditure Reporting System, National Informatics Center, Mizoram
-Mahanagar, District Administration ,Kamrup (Metro), Assam
- Common Portal to Send Bulk SMS(s) to citizens by Multiple Departments,NIC Mizoram State Centre
- Nagaland Police SMS Based Vehicle Monitoring System,  - WINNER
- Meghalaya State Agriculture Marketing Portal, Directorate of Horticulture, Government of Meghalaya - RUNNERS UP
- MIS for State Finance Commission, Assam, National Informatics Centre
- Project E-Tendering/e-Procurement system for Govt. of Assam/Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya- Nexprocure/NPX, Nextenders,
- DRISTI, Ofce of the Commissioner, Panchayat & Rural Development, Assam
- Online Payment of Road tax, Passenger and Goods tax in Mizoram Transport Department, NIC Mizoram State Centre
-Assam Secretariat e-Pass Application, NIC, Assam
- APDCL e-Services, Assam Power Distribution Corporation Ltd., Assam

The 6th Edition of the eNorth East Award 2016 is organised by NEDF, Guwahati and Impulse NGO Network, Shillong in collaboration with MITS, Meghalaya and was held on 26th February 2016 at the NEC Auditorium, Nongrim Hills, Shillong.  The event witnessed a participation of 71 Finalists under various categories where one Winner and one Runners-up  was declared from each category, which was adjudged by eminent jury members comprising experts from the IT field, media, educational institutions and industry.

The Inaugural function was graced by a host of dignitaries comprising of Shri.R.Muivah, IAS, Secretary NEC, Shri.R.M.Mishra, IAS, Principal Secretary Planning Department, Meghalaya, Shri.D.P.Wahlang, IAS, Commissioner & Secretary IT, Meghalaya, Shri, Amitabh Singhal, Board Member, Public Interest Registry etc.

The eNorth East Award platform is an effort to mainstream the North East region by bringing the progressive digital initiatives into national and international focus, recognize good IT practices from the region and felicitate these practitioners and projects for their innovations.

(The writer is Assistant Director of Agriculture(Agro)in the Department of Agriculture Meghalaya and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Apiculture Mission – A Vital Component for Improving Horticulture Production in Meghalaya

                                                                                                         -By C.S.Shabong
 
Fig1:  A Schematic of a Honey Value Chain (Source MBDA Website)
Mawpran a sleepy village near the Indo-Bangadesh border has been transformed as the strawberry village of East Khasi Hills, next to Sohliya village in Ri-Bhoi district which has become a tourist destination. With the formation of the Mawpran Strawberry Association in the year 2008-09 and through the intervention by the State Horticulture Mission under the National Mission for Horticulture Development for North East India and the Himalayas (Now a component under the MIDH), farmers have been nudged towards taking up commercial scale horticulture to improve their livelihoods. As part of the intervention, the farmers were also encouraged to take up apiculture and bee rearing to improve the production of strawberry. Bees are known to improve the amount of fruit harvested by about 10% in field trials conducted in UK. Pollination by bees is also found to improve the shape and size of the strawberry fruits thus translating to better marketability.

Food security is also intrinsically linked and supported by pollinators, of which the humble bee is one of the most important.  Many fruits, vegetables, plantation crops, nuts and seeds depend on animal pollination of which the honey bee and the bumble bee are well known for their roles. Many wild species of bees are also captured and reared by farmers and bee keepers in Meghalaya mainly for honey extraction. But the indirect beneficiaries are the vast stretches of horticulture and fruit plantation especially in the villages of Nongtrai, Tynger, etc. situated in the Indo-Bangladesh hill tract in which a single bee keeper is able to produce as much as 20 kg to 125 kg of honey per year. (D.Marngar and R.D Lyngdoh, 2014)
Bees are diligent pollinators of fruits and seed crops. All plant reproduction requires the transfer of pollen from the anthers, or male part of the flower to the stigma, or female part of the flower either on the same plant or on separate plant. During a single day, one bee may visit several thousand flowers, of one plant species, collecting nectar and pollen and at the same time continuously transferring pollen grains from one flower to the next. Many variety of fruit trees need cross pollination and specially hybrid crops for commercial production creates a special need for cross pollination by insects/bees. Some crops are self pollinated but nonetheless give better yields through pollination by insects or bees. Adequate pollination by insects/bees also ensures that early flowers set seeds, resulting in uniform and early harvest .

In India, the National Bee Board is the nodal agency for registration of bee keepers and farmers for traceability, formulating standards for honey and bee-hive products, capacity building, training and advisories. It also provides free registration of bee-keepers and well as provides assistance and support through various agencies like Khadi Village and Industries Board (KVIB), Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), State Agricultural Universities (SAU), State Horticulture Mission (SHM) etc.

Bees sustain horticulture by allowing crops and wild plants to reproduce. A world without these pollinators would lead to the breakdown of the vital function of reproduction or fruit plants and crops, thus leading to extinction of many plant species. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has recognized pollination as a key driver in the maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem function. The system of hiring and renting honeybee colonies for apple pollination is being practiced in Himachal Pradesh to improve production.

As bees fly from one flower to the next, not only do they collect nectars from flowers but also  through their pollinary activities ensures future sustainability of generation to come for food and crops. Pollination is the one significant economic value derived from bees. Plants and bees are interdependent and need each other for survival and procreation.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India has started a restructured centrally sponsored scheme, Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture(MIDH) during the 12th Plan for the holistic development of horticulture sector covering fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers, aromatic plants etc. One of the mission support component of MIDH is “Pollination Support through Bee Keeping” as one of the mission intervention. Honey bee will be used in the mission as an important input to maximise agriculture/horticulture production. The responsibility for co-ordinating the bee keeping development program in the State will be vested with the State Designated Agency, in this case which is Meghalaya SFAC. National Bee Board(NBB) will be responsible for providing technical support, implementation of promotional programs relating to bee-keeping and co-ordinating bee-keeping activity in the State. Assistance will also be available to the state on development of nucleus stock of bees, bee breeding, distribution of bee colony hives and bee keeping equipments.

Table 1.  Cost Norm and Pattern of Assistance under MIDH during XII Plan

Sl. No.
Pollination Support through Bee Keeping
Cost Norms
Pattern of Assistance
1.
Production of nucleus stock(Pubic Sector)
Rs.20.00 lakhs
100% of the cost
2.
Production of bee colonies by bee breeders
Rs.10.00 lakhs
40% of cost for producing min. 2000 colonies per year
3.
Honey Bee Colony
Rs.2000 per colony of 8 frames
40% of the cost limited to 50 colonies per beneficiary
4.
Bee Hives
Rs. 2000 per hive
40% of the cost limited to 50 colonies per beneficiary
5.
Equipment including honey extractor(4 frame), food grade container(30kg) nett including complete set of bee keeping equipment
Rs.20,000/- per set
40% of the cost limited to 1 set per beneficiary

 In a case study No. 10 by Uma Partap, ICIMOD, Nepal titled “Cash Crop Farming in the Himalayas: The importance of pollinator management and managed pollination”, it reported on the impact of honey bee pollination on fruits and vegetables.

The findings above that bee pollination increased yield and fruit quality in Apple (Dulta and Verma, 1987; Gupta et al., 1996), Peach, Plum, Citrus, Kiwi (Gupta et al., 2000) and strawberry (Partap, 2000; Partap et al., 2000). Bee pollination did not only increase the fruit set but also reduced fruit drop in Apple, Peach, Plum and Citrus (Dulta and Verma, 1987; Partap, 2000; Partap et al., 2000). Reports have also indicated an increase in fruit juice and sugar content in citrus fruits (Partap, 2000). In strawberry, bee pollination reportedly reduces the percentage of misshapen fruits (Partap, 2000).
Studies have shown that honeybee pollination enhanced seed production and quality of seed in various vegetable crops such as cabbage, cauliflower, radish, broad leaf mustard and lettuce (Partap and Verma, 1992; 1994; Verma and Partap, 1993; 1994). These results confirm the usefulness of bee pollination and its role in increasing crop productivity and improving the quality of fruits and seeds.

Conclusion:
Besides producing honey, bees can increase crop production to the tune of 10-25%. Crops in the State like peach, plum strawberry, limes, oranges and vegetables like cucumber, cauliflower, pumkin, pepper benefit from this insect. Under MIDH and Apiculture Mission under the IBDLP, there is great scope to increase adoption of apiculture by farmers both as a livelihood option as well as improving the production of various horticultural crops in the State.  The bee has been rightly called the farmer’s friend and with the State moving towards organic practice, organic honey produced from Meghalaya may be the next sought after product in the near future.

 (The Writer is working as Senior Agriculture Development Officer (Information), Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

Monday, January 19, 2015

MEGHALAYA MISSION ORGANIC – Moving towards safer Food

-Canning S Shabong
 
Organic fruits, vegetables, and grains have several measureable nutritional benefits over conventional crops, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (BJN). Analyzing 343 peer-reviewed publications, researchers from the United Kingdom with the help of American Charles Benbrook of Washington State University found that organics contain 18 to 69 percent higher concentrations of antioxidants.
 
An Organic Tea Garden in Ri-Bhoi District (Photo: C.S.Shabong)
Since time immemorial, farming in Meghalaya is Organic by tradition and has been practiced by our farmers and the farming community for ages. Our forefather practice a form of shifting cultivation or slash and burn agriculture which is commonly called Jhum cultivation or Rep Shyrti (in Khasi) and A.ba oa (in Garo). This is one of the most ancient systems of farming believed to have originated in the Neolithic period around 7000 B C. This practice has an in-built mechanism of sustenance, conservation and renewable system of resource management.

The need to improve and enhance the natural resource base in a sustainable manner through optimum management, renewing soil nutrients and judicious water management; has evolved into the concept of Modern Organic farming to scale down the use of chemical pesticides, chemical fertilisers and the damaging practices that conventional agriculture has evolved. Such practices would presumably satisfy most concerns about environmental pollutions, human health as well as maintenance of ecological balance and agricultural sustainability.

Traditionally, the farming communities in Meghalaya were self-sufficient and the villages had their own community granaries and seed banks. In conformity with the observance of International Year of Family Farming 2014, which recognizes the importance of family farming in reducing poverty and improving global food security followed by the declaration by the United Nations of the year 2015 as the International Year of Soils, which states that soils are the foundation of family farming, the Government of Meghalaya recognizes the importance of family farming by smallholder and family farmers for sustainable development. The State Government aims to promote new development policies that will help the smallholder and family farmers eradicate hunger, reduce rural poverty and continue to play a major role as stewards who manage and protect natural resources; and as drivers of sustainable development in global food security through small-scale, sustainable agricultural production.

Since farming in Meghalaya is basically organic by practice and therefore there is ample scope for expanding and exploiting the market potential of this sector in the right direction. The Meghalaya Mission Organic will emphasize on the need to build the entrepreneurial capacity of the farmers of the State towards achieving business acumen in the process of organic production and marketing in a strategic manner. Organic Certification programme associated with this Mission will help to link our Organic Products with Organic Markets at National and International level and standards. This Mission also aims to generate multiple livelihood opportunities and employment avenues through various services and interventions in the State and rural communities in particular.
 
The Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya has successfully initiated pilots during 2010 which began with Tea and thereafter Cauliflower in Ri-Bhoi and East Khasi Hills district. "MEG" Tea is presently marketed as Organic Certified Tea and is available in three varieties - Green, Oolong and Black Tea. All the organic tea varieties are USDA and NPOP certified, which were certified by M/S Control Union India. In Garo Hills, organic certification of Pineapple and Cashewnut are ongoing and are presently in C1 and C2 stage.

Mission Organic was launched by the Hon’ble Chief Minister incharge Agriculture, Dr. Mukul Sangma on 10th January 2015 in Ampati, under South West Garo Hills District. The mission is also being converged with the “Clean and Green Meghalaya campaign” in order to create awareness about the need for safer food and thereby contributing to a cleaner environment. The new policy of the State Government also aims to build brand Organic Meghalaya, which will produce organic certified food and products, link organic food to eco-tourism, cleaner and greener environment through lower carbon regime and build consumer awareness and demand for safe and healthy food.      

 ________________________________________________________________

The Writer works as Agriculture Development Officer(Information), Directorate of Agriculture and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In Conversation with the farmers- Can ICT usher in change for the better?



Photo: A Farmer harvesting Ginger in his field
Mr. S. Nongbri and his son-in-law, a class 9 dropout of Umroi village were harvesting ginger from their field on a December afternoon. Soon after, they were joined by the wife of Nongbri who started to pick the healthy rhizomes and kept them separately from the rest. On inquiring about this process, she informed me that the healthy rhizomes were being sorted out for seed purpose, while the rest, including the shrunken and diseased ones will be sold in the market. Then she instructed her son-in-law to dig 2 holes on the ground and he quickly obliged. I was curious and cannot help but ask what the holes are being dug for? She replied, “the holes are being dug to store the healthy ginger for seed purpose”. Then I asked her – is’nt there a better way to store the ginger meant for seed purpose as storing on the ground may lead to wastage and loss? Oh! this is the method we have learnt from our forefather, she quipped and also looked at me curiously. I then went on to explain the method of ginger storage which my colleague Iai Majaw, the Ginger man has explained to me supplemented with a writeup and a diagram of his storage structure. Inspite of not having any previous field experience with ginger, I now have enough knowledge about ginger storage and practices to confidently explain to these farmers, thanks to Iai Majaw. They looked to me and said “Babu I wish that the officers from the department will come us in the field and explain like you did” Please take a seat here and explain to us as we are illiterate and uninformed poor farmers. Then I sat down with them on the field and explained about what i represent, the work I do in the Agriculture Information Wing and how I passionately apply new technologies to bridge information and communication gaps that exist in the agricultural extension system.
In my two hours spend in their field, I could learn that many of my so called high technology and 21st century inventions are not able to reach them. They told me that they are too engrossed and focussed on their livelihood that they don’t read newspaper, don’t watch TV and don’t own any mobile phone either. Forget about access to internet and facebook! Then I asked what about access to State Government assistance program, awareness and training or field school- They replied in the negative and blamed the Headman for not informing them about any such programs. Don’t you ever visit the Department District or Circle office? Where do we have the time and luxury to visit and what guarantee that our visit would be fruitful? they answered back. 
Today we live in the so called 21st century in the midst of the Information and communication (ICT) revolution which has changed the way people interact, communicate and connect. Even the agriculture space has also not been left untouched by this revolution. In fact the Ministry of Agricuture is rolling out the 2nd Phase of the its ambitious National e-Governance Plan for Agriculture(NeGP-A), which aims to put agriculture in a new growth trajectory. Does my encounter above give me reason for optimism or disappointment since I will be in the forefront of this program? Is my glass half full or half empty?

The objectives of NeGP-A is to provide relevant information and services to the farming community through the use of ICT. This program is an ambitious country wide initiative which is being rolled out to 22 States and UT in a mission mode. The first phase of the pilot was carried out in 7 States and lessons learnt and best practices have been captured during the first phase.

In my 22 years of serving the department, I am of the firm opinion that the time has now come to address change in a fundamental way, i.e. to take people from a traditional stage, which they are comfortable with to the desired stage, through sustained communication and motivational campaign in order to change the way they think, behave and act. There is an art to communication which involves psychology, philosophy and sociology. Just doling out freebees and routine aids instead make the farmers more dependent on the system.
The question I ask myself “Can ICT bring in the desired change and improve the livelihood of the farming community in the present state of affairs? I take courage from the book by John Kotter, “Our Iceberg is Melting - Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions.” We need to reduce complacency and increase urgency! We need to create a short term win, in the least and ensure that the change would not be overcome by stubborn and hard to die “traditions.”

(The writer works in the Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya as Agriculture Development Officer (Information and IT) and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)