Manipur farmers blame institutional failures for low yield and demand compensation

Wet fields and destroyed fields post heavy rainfalls. Photo by Alexy Thiyam.

Wet fields and destroyed fields post heavy rainfalls. Photo by Alexy Thiyam.

  • Changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures in Manipur pose a threat to the agrarian sector and paddy production in the Manipur Valley.
  • Fertiliser supply and a delay in allocation led to losses for farmers in 2022, following which they also held protests. Some farmers resorted to purchasing fertilisers from the black market.
  • Farmers demand the government to declare drought in the state and award a compensation to affected farmers.

The impacts of climate change are being felt globally, with Manipur currently facing its own share of climate impacts. A 2021 study by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water ranks Manipur as the sixth most vulnerable state to climate change in India, while the Imphal East district of the state features as the ninth most vulnerable district in the report.

Over the past few years, the changing pattern of rainfall in the northeastern state has become drastic, leading to low crop yields. Agriculture in Manipur remains largely rainfed due to the lack of irrigation facilities. While the state houses eight major, medium and multipurpose irrigation projects, their efficacy is diminutive, according to the farmers. Instead, what was taken up as a promise to supply irrigation to the fields has turned counterproductive by destroying local ecologies and displacing people from the sites. These irrigation projects are viewed as failures and the Manipur farmers feel that they are not only a curse to the farmers, but they also limit paddy as a mono-crop.

Earlier, there were two types of crops, grown according to the months in which the plantation starts. The preparation of the early crop cycle starts in the last week of December with the harvest in the last week of May or in June. The work for the normal season or late crop begins during February and the harvest takes place during the months of October and November.  Both cycles of crops depended on the knowledge and prediction of rainfall – not just the quantum, but also its distribution.

In 2022, Manipur witnessed heavy downpour in the pre-monsoon season, with the rains flooding the fields when they were supposed to be dry after the first two/three rounds of ploughing. The water receded in June 2022 and the seeds were sown. By this time in the year, the fields are usually soaked in water and the required fertilisers are added. However, in 2022, the state experienced heatwaves instead of the heavy rainfall that is expected.

“This left the fields exposed and cracked, creating a drought-like situation, hence resulting in the stunting of growth,” narrates Manorama Khumukcham, a 39-year-old farmer and a domestic help, who invested almost Rs. 30,000 in a sangam (¼ of a hectare) of land that she rented from a landlord.

She recalls that two years ago she and her husband had to hire water tankers to drop water in their fields as they dried up. The water tanker, which she had to hire twice, would cost Rs. 1,000-1,200 for 12 kilolitres. Last year, Khumukcham had to borrow a pump set to deliver water to the fields.

Cracked paddy fields post-transplantation, July 19, 2022. Photo by Donald Takhell.
Cracked paddy fields post-transplantation in July 2022. Photo by Donald Takhell.

Manipur’s economy is largely based on the agriculture sector, with 52.8% of its workforce engaged as cultivators and agricultural labourers. Despite the agrarian sector occupying a major share in the workforce, surveys suggest that not much has been done to improve the sector. In 2022, the harvest of rice – the staple food of the state, amounted up to 98% of the total food-grain production.However, the crop has also been yielding miseries. Earlier, one sangam would yield approximately 30 bags of rice, but in 2022, yields declined drastically to about six to ten bags per sangam.

The fertiliser allocation mystery

Adding to the issues in production last year, was the delay in allocation of subsidised fertiliser – urea. Some farmers claim that the state acquired more than the actual demand. The government was also questioned for its decision to shift the responsibility of distributing urea to the local Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

Protest and outcry for shortage and non-allocation of fertilisers went on for several months and farmers continued waiting in long queues before daybreak for fertilisers until August 2022. Since fertilisers must be used at a certain time-period, many farmers had to resort to buying fertilisers from the black market.

Contemporarily, almost all the paddy fields are fertiliser-dependent, and while a bag of subsidised urea would cost Rs. 300-400, the same cost around Rs. 800-1,000 in the black market. Each sangam requires typically two or three bags of fertilisers, which is commonly a combination of urea and potash. While urea is subsidised, other components must be acquired from the market.

An additional challenge with the distribution scheme is that fertilisers are given to the pattadars (owners of lands). “Most farmers do not own the land on which they cultivate, but are tenants to a landlord who has agreed to lease their sangams and paris (4 sangams) for a taxation of verbally agreed four to six bags of the harvest,” says Bele Asheibam, a farmer and a post graduate in Organic Agriculture. Therefore, Khumukcham has to pay the landlord six bags of rice for the land she has rented.

“Most do not have the luxury to abandon agriculture. What they do is, if water is needed, they would use pump sets. If fertilisers are needed, they’ll somehow procure from the black market, pumping more investment with a greater risk,” adds Asheibam, further elucidating the helplessness of the farmers.

Demands to declare drought and award compensation

It has been eight years since the Manipur Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2014 was passed but the government is yet to furnish the rules for administering the act. Hence, with process of rapid urbanisation, the size of cultivable fields is also decreasing rapidly, increasing the stress on farmers. Over the past few years, Civil Society Organisations, Farmer Unions, among others, have been demanding for the government to address the issues. Last year, the Manipur Human Rights Commission took up a suo moto case to address the farmers’ woes.

“After a thorough investigation of the issues at hand we [Loumee Shinmee Apunba Lup (LOUSHAL) and Manipur Loumee Marup] have together submitted a recommendation to the [district collector (DC)] earlier in July, that 60% crop would fail and have sought for intervention,” said Mutum Churamani, the President of LOUSHAL, a farmers’ welfare association.

Asheibam opines that the whole discourse of bad harvest is not just with the erratic rainfalls and climate change. “Manipur receives a rainfall of minimum 1,400 mm, and this is sufficient enough in a sense if there is a harvesting and distributional capacity, which the state has failed,” he maintains.

“Over the last three to four years, miscreants have been burning the crops and despite filing FIR and asking for investigation by local bodies and unions, no legal action has been properly taken till date,” exclaims Churamani.

Manipuri women selling locally grown fruits in the Senapati fruits and vegetables market. In December 1939, the women of Manipur rose up against the British Colonial Administration when the heavy export of rice to neighbouring states led to unavailability of rice in the market. This episode, Nupi-Lan (women’s war), marked the assertion of women’s agency in the market economy. Photo by Goumisao/Wikimedia Commons.

Taking note of the reportedly low harvest levels, Manipur Loumee Marup, LOUSHAL and Farmers’ Joint Action Committee, Manipur, have jointly raised a demand to declare drought in Manipur and have asked the government to pay compensation of Rs. 1 lakh per hectare to the farmers.

Khumukcham believes that this is the only short-term way out for tenant farmers who harvested the exact amount she had to pay the landlord. When asked what ahead, she replied with remorse, “Well I’ll plead with the landlord to spare the meagre harvest, but I know I won’t be able to plead again next year. The government must help us.”

Read more: Manipur’s push for dams threatens local ecology and communities


Banner image: Wet fields and destroyed fields post unexpected heavy rainfall in Manipur. Photo by Alexy Thiyam.

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