SHILLONG, Apr 18: A Meghalaya legislator on Wednesday contended that once upon a time all species in the earth were “running” in the wild which included humans but man later on evolved.
Quoting Darwin’s book published in 1859, On the Origin of Species, the legislator was trying to bring a similarity between the evolution of man and the conversion of forest produce into agricultural crops for the benefit of farmers.
Taking part on a motion to discuss the plightof farmers of the state who are cultivating broomstick, bay leaf and wild black pepper during the Budget session of the Meghalaya Assembly, Independent legislator from Mawphlang, Syntar Klas Sunn pointed out that at one point of time strawberry (locally known as soh shan in the Khasi language) grew wild and still does in the state.
“But now the horticulture department has recognise (its value) and it is being grown commercially in Ri-Bhoi district,” Sunn told the House.
The Independent legislator from Mawphlang pointed out that if the government recognises broomstick, bay leaf and wild black pepper as agricultural crops which till today are forest products, then it will be beneficial for the farmers of the state.
Sunn also pointed out that wild black pepper has become endangered species but if grown domestically the product will be saved from extinction.
“Also it will improve livelihood of the farmers,” the Independent MLA said.
Earlier initiating the debate on the motion, Congress legislator from Mawsynram, Himalaya M Shangpliang pointed out that while the Agriculture Department discourages farmers from growing broomstick since according to them it uses too much water but it was encouraging bamboo cultivation.
Urging the state government to recognise broomstick, bay leaf and wild black pepper as agricultural product, the Mawsynram legislator said that by doing so it will generate revenue for the farmers.
“The need of the hour is that these crops should be recognised as agricultural crops and not as forest products anymore,” Shangpliang said.
He also informed that as per a survey conducted by him at a personal level the best quality broomstick costs Rs 27 per kg and is sold at Rs 32 per kg in Shillong, while a low quality broomstick costs Rs 8 per kg and is sold at Rs 11 per kg in Shillong.
Shangpliang also informed that Mawsynram alone produces one lakh tonne of broomstick per year and if sold at Rs 25 per kg the farmers will earn to the tune of Rs 2.5 crore annually.
“This, while it is still considered as forest product. If recognised as agricultural crop the revenue will be double,” he said.
He also lamented that middlemen are forcing the farmers to sell their broomsticks at a lower rate even as he asked why MeCOFED cannot help them by purchasing their produce.
The legislator also pointed out that the best quality bay leaf is sold for Rs 19 per kg at Mawsynram and in Shillong it fetches Rs 22 per kg, while low quality one costs Rs 11 per kg and sold at Rs 13 per kg in Shillong.
Shangpliang informed the House that three years ago bay leaf fetches Rs 33 per kg but now it has come down to Rs 19 per kg due to the middlemen.
He also pointed out that Mawsynram constituency alone produces 1.5 lakh tonne bay leaf annually and farmers earn Rs 2,25 crore annually.
Moreover, according to him, wild black pepper grown in Mawsynram is sold at Rs 550 per kg in Shillong.
Congress legislator from Umroi, George B Lyngdoh lamented over the unavailability of data of farmers in the state with the state’s Agriculture department.
Lyngdoh said that in the absence of such data the approach of the government will be sporadic and will not be focused.
He also said that farmers do not know the market rates of their produce fixed by the government.
Former cabinet minister, Zenith Sangma, said that there is ample scope for employment in the agriculture sector but it is not being realised.
On the issue of broomsticks and other products being highly depleting species to the soil, Sangma called for mix cropping.
In his reply, Agriculture Minister Banteidor Lyngdoh, said that the Agriculture Department will consult with the Forest Department on the issue of giving the status of agricultural crops to broomstick, bay leaf and wild black pepper.