To cultivate or not to cultivate - Plight of Meghalaya farmers during lockdown
In these uncertain times, farmers are the worried lot – a recurring question is 'to cultivate or not to cultivate.'
A quote by former president of the United States of America late John F. Kennedy comes to life – “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways”.
It may not be the fancy food of stir-fried vegetables or KFC chicken but, most of the farmers refuse to give up and, choose to cultivate to make sure they have a plateful of rice to fill their stomach.
A visit to Nongthliew, a quaint village in West Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, gave travellers a sneak peak into the lives of country folks with men and women working the fields, children carrying their younger siblings, some playing with their sheep. The place was a green paradise or, so it seems.
The hard work they put in from the early morning hours till the late evenings does not seem to bother them as they narrate their lives with smiling faces punctuated with hearty laughs.
Riswit Basaiawmoit was plucking coriander leaves with the help of her two small daughters. The coriander fragrance wafted in the air.
She said, “20 bunches of coriander will fit into one basket. It sells for Rs 30 to Rs 40 but, it all depends on the market.”
Sharing her anecdote of being a farmer, she said, “If we do not practice farming, we have no other occupation to turn to. I don’t want to stay home and do nothing. When we work, we are at least getting food to eat."
Riswit spoke about the expenditure incurred in agriculture which is more than it seems - she pays Rs 1600 for four labourers to plough the field, Rs 450 for each packet of seeds, Rs 650 for salt and other expenditure.
“We are apprehensive even when we cultivate; the market is also not good. We don’t know what to do; sometimes the market is closed and what not happens. Where will we sell our produce? We just wish that the disease (Covid-19) does not come here so that the markets are not impacted," she said.
A short distance away, Antiewlin Basaiawmoit was also plucking coriander. She said, “These should have been plucked the day before yesterday but, we could not pluck them because of the lockdown. See they are turning yellow. We cannot leave them for too long."
She said that in pre-COVID times, they were earning well but, it is difficult living amidst the pandemic. Sounding disheartened, she said in a faint voice, “Ngim tip lah ne em ban ioh bai rep, hynrei hap trei shitom” (We don’t know if we will get the desired price, nonetheless, we still have to work the fields).
Asked if they can take care of their families' needs through farming, they replied in the affirmative.
Most of them market their produce to Shillong, which is also a cause of worry for the farmers as they have no means of transportation because of the government-imposed lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Another farmer Bijied Shabong said that she does not keep an account of what she produces while stating that farming has been rather difficult to meet the needs of the family.
As a relief to the farmers, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong, on May 8, said that the NaRi and 1917 iTEAMs have been activated following complaints from farmers over their inability to sell their perishable goods.
(Edited by Ibankyntiew Mawrie)
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