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Agro and Horticulture Thrusts Needed to Stir Stagnant Structure of Manipur’s Low Income Economy

One of the key indicators to measure the economic well-being of a state is its net state domestic product (state gross domestic product minus depreciation on capital goods of the state) per capita, which will be written in short as “per capita income” in this article. In the year, 2018-19, the nominal (current price in that year) per capita income of Manipur was Rs. 69,978, while the corresponding average per capita income of India was Rs.1,26,406. (Source: retrieved on 8th May 2020). Manipur’s rank among 33 States and Union Territories of the country was 31. Manipur’s per capita income at the current price rose to Rs. 79,296 in 2019-20 (Source: Economic Survey, 2019-20 of the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Manipur), a rise of 9.66%.

Per capita of a state is calculated by dividing the net domestic product of that state in a year by its population. The reason behind low per capita income needs analysis and full understanding if we like to design interventions to address those weaknesses. In other words, after doing the Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat, SWOT, analysis of Manipur, policies and programs are to be formulated and implemented if we want to catch up with other states with higher per capita income.

Since gross domestic product comprises contributions by three sectors of the economy–primary, secondary, and tertiary – it is necessary to look at the strengths and weaknesses of these sectors. The primary sector consists of agriculture including livestock, forestry & logging, fishing, mining/quarrying. The secondary sector includes manufacturing, construction, electricity, gas, and water supply. The tertiary sector consists of all services including transport, storage, communication, trade, hotels & restaurants, banking and insurance, real estate, ownership of dwelling, business services, legal services, public administration, etc.

The share of the tertiary/service sector in the net state domestic product at the current price remained almost constant at about 64 percent from 2011-12 to 2019-20, while the share of the primary sector increased from 20.39 percent to 22.00 percent during the same period. The change of share of the secondary sector was 14.89 percent to 13.57 percent. In other words, the share of each sector did not undergo much change.

Traditionally, the growth of many economies has been driven by agriculture by supplying raw materials for the processing of food items. In Manipur, the availability of surplus agricultural or horticultural produce to be used as feedstock in the manufacturing sector is negligible, even though we have a good number of superior and unique produces. Take pineapple of instance. Both Queen and Kew varieties grow luxuriously on gentle sloped hills of Manipur. The tropical climate and Manipur soil are conducive for large scale cultivation of pineapple. However, pineapple cultivation has been in the hands of people living in the hills. Because of various reasons, pineapple as a fruit is not grown on a large scale in the state. Traditional planters are not producing sufficient pineapple to feed the processors of pineapple. The reason behind low production may be attributed to lack of demand, non-remunerative price, lack of capital, or entrepreneurship. Producing pineapple as table fruit is different from producing in good quantity for processing. In Manipur, being a landlocked state, almost all pineapple produced end up on tables. If the farmer produces more pineapple, the price comes down and there is no incentive to produce more. We have to look at the value addition of pineapple via extraction of juice, packaging of pineapple cubes and slices, and making fruit jams to increase the demand and ensure better prices for the farmers.

We see apples, dry fruits like walnut of the USA sold in Manipur. If it is possible to import such items from the USA, which is 12,000 km away, to Imphal, it should be equally possible to export Manipur’s pineapple to the USA provided our pineapple is competitive in terms of quality and price. It is necessary to develop new markets for pineapple as table fruit or as a processed food item.

It is learned that most of the fruit processors in Manipur are unable to get sufficient raw pineapple for processing from Manipur. There are several ways to promote the production of Pineapple in Manipur. Manipur government is already implementing a scheme for increasing production and processing of organic pineapple with a host of assistance in the form of supply of pineapple suckers, organic manure, and processing of pineapple. It is necessary to upscale plantation of pineapple in the foothills and gentle slopes. One hurdle in the expansion of plantation in the hills of Manipur is the present land tenure system, where title/ownership of the land is not well-defined and proper land record are not maintained. In such a situation, it is difficult to mortgage the land for plantation–access to institutional credit is restricted. It should be possible to extend Manipur Land Revenue & Reforms Act to areas earmarked for plantation to confer title over the land. Further, there is a need for encouraging people in the hills to be more entrepreneurial and risk-taking to take up pineapple plantation and processing on a commercial scale. The age-old subsistence agriculture should give way to commercial farming.

Similar reforms may be considered for oranges of Tamenglong and Noney districts, lemon of Ukhrul district, passionfruit of Churachandpur district. Unless an excellent and dependable supply chain of agricultural and horticultural products is put in place, it will be hard to increase the share of agriculture and related food processing industry to the gross domestic product in a significant manner.

We should take a few lessons from countries, which are similar to Manipur in terms of natural endowments. Switzerland in Europe is landlocked and full of hills. It is famous for precision works, especially, in making the finest watches in the world, which fetch export earnings. It also uses its surplus milk production to make the value-added Swiss chocolates. Hilly terrains with snow-covered mountains and green valleys are exploited to the hilt to develop the tourism industry and help its economy. Japan too has a lot of similarities with Manipur in terms of the terrain of flat plains suitable for rice cultivation and small hills scattered over large tracts. The people of Japan possess an unparalleled sense of nationalism, discipline, hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation, etc. in their blood. Japanese are always searching for solutions to improve the performance of any machines and processes. They are indeed innovative. Can Manipuris emulate Japanese?

It will not be wrong to claim that Manipur is the most beautiful place on the planet. We have almost everything that makes a place a preferred destination for tourists. What are the hurdles in selling Manipur as a tourist destination to the world?  The answer which many outsiders give when Manipur is suggested for a visit is: Is it safe to go there? The state has been embroiled in the insurgency by various groups for the last about fifty years. The national media highlighted the events of death and kidnapping in the past creating an image of Manipur as an “unsafe place” to visit. The impression of “unsafe place” ingrained in the minds of outsiders is hard to remove despite huge improvements in the last decade. The state government has to invest its time and resources to change the perception of Manipur as “unsafe place”. It has to take a multi-prong approach to make the most competitive destination for tourists. It should spend a good amount of money in the advertisement in national media to sell Manipur as a destination for tourists. Negative reporting too needs moderation and management. Facilities required for tourists to stay, travel, and guidance, as well as infrastructure for the consumption of tourism products in the way the tourists need to be provided.

Similarly, we need to identify other areas where we have strength. For instance, IT professionals of Manipur should be encouraged to set up business in Manipur so that a mini-Bangalore comes up in Manipur. Manipur could also become an educational hub as the climate of the state is pleasant. It is incumbent upon the Government to take the advice of consultants and experts to help Manipur grow. A culture of entrepreneurship needs to be inculcated among the younger generation. Credit lines should be opened with impetus from the government.

The list of works required to be done is very long. However, as any journey begins with the first step, all have to take the first step to take Manipur forward. People of Manipur need to dream big and try to catch up with developed countries. Nothing will be lost for dreaming big.

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