These days Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma is distributing agar and bamboo plants among farmers. He appropriately coined two terms for the plants – ‘green diamond’ and ‘wonder grass’. Although he has political reasons to launch this mission by himself in each district, the sincerity of the programme should not be doubted. While bamboo is abundantly grown in the north-eastern region including Meghalaya, for agar too this region has the most suitable high humid climate with abundant rainfall. Bamboo has the obvious use of construction material besides in furniture, sculpture and paper making. While the plant agar was ‘discovered’ thousands of miles away from North-east in Japan in the 17th century, use of the bark of agar plant as a writing material has been a centuries-old practice in the region. Official communications between kings and ancient manuscripts of poetry on ‘sachi paat’ (bark of agar) are still well preserved in the homes and museums across Assam.
Meghalaya has taken up agar and bamboo plantation in a mission mode amid a lot of euphoria about sustainable development. Everyone talks about the subject these days. Public money to the tune of hundreds of crores has been pumped in for livelihood means that are sustainable. Conferences and seminars are held by everywhere to discuss promote sustainable livelihood. Irony is that hardly any farmer is seen in these meetings. They discuss about farmers and rural livelihood in the air-conditioned rooms of cities. Hardly any farmer is seen in these meetings. Food bills of such conferences run into thousands, if not lakhs. But they are hardly able to stop rural people leaving agriculture to take up manual jobs in urban centres. Urban migration is a huge menace. Even in rural areas, many people prefer trading to farming. This growing trend of urban migration cannot be stopped if some serious step is not taken to ensure food security of rural people.
Financial insecurity is the biggest factor that has driven out people from the field of agriculture. Yet, according to government figures, there is surplus people engaged in the field, which is why there is ‘plan’ to engage this ‘excess’ labour in industries to be set up in the rural areas itself. But the government should be very careful about choosing the industries. Locally available materials must be used in the industries. Apart from mining, some tea factories, a few refineries, and a few paper mills, we do not see many industries that use locally available raw materials. There must be a synergy between available resources and their use while making any plan for sustainable development. It is not yet known if the Meghalaya government has devised any plan to make use of the agar and bamboo being planted under the mission. Growing bamboo and agar in the humid and fertile land may be a piece of cake, but finding market for them might be a huge task.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on September 4, 2015)