Kachai : On being a model village Go to Hills Mission and some needed traction

Ch Priyoranjan Singh, Manipur University
The villages in the hills of Manipur are no longer the paradise of yester years where the abundant gifts of the mountains afforded a leisurely livelihood of contentment and laid back life world. Poverty, unemployment and a food crisis have begun to hit most of the interior hill villages of Manipur. And yet, people today have dreams, expectations and high levels of aspirations, as they have become increasingly aware of what is happening all over the world. There has been, in recent times, an unmistakable wave of consciousness in many larger tribal villages that, but for the lucky few, their future lies much in the village and how it develops.
In a recent policy statement, the Chief Minister N Biren Singh announced that Kachai  village will be a selected village from Ukhrul district to be treated as a model village for the development of the hill districts of Manipur under the innovative ‘Go to Hills’ Mission. The concept of a model village implies that State Government, in partnership with the villagers, shall plan and implement developmental interventions that will bring about all round growth in the village in the productive sectors of agriculture, industry and services. Adequate funds will be provided or sourced in a sustainable manner so that the village develops as an example for other villages of Ukhrul to follow. The ball is therefore in the court of the selected model village like Kachai: take the right decision, make the right choices and the future will belong to the village.
Surveys made in eight villages across the hill districts of Manipur show that the production of rice in wet rice cultivating villages was only 74.39 kg per capita and 35.24 kg per capita in Jhum cultivating villages as against the requirement of 193.38 kg per capita per annum. The tribal villages in Manipur are apparently facing a grave food deficit crisis that has been only  put off by liberal supplies of cheap rice through the National Food Security Act. There has been an across the board rise in the growth rates of all types of workers which reflects how population growth and dwindling employment opportunities are impacting leisurely tribal ways of life and the very structure of job searches. Unviable self-employment in Jhum and marginal wet rice fields is driving the tribes towards occupational diversifications into non-agricultural sectors to sustain a livelihood around the year. This is the reason why main workers (those who are employed for more than six month in a year) have grown by 6.84 pc during 2001-2011. Low levels of employment generation in the hill economy are leading to high levels of 4.79 pc growth of marginal workers (less than six months of employment in a year). Demand for even part time jobs far outstrip supply, given the weak productive and urban base of the hill region. There is also a high rate of growth of non-workers as mainly explained by youths undergoing education and getting out of the job market and more distressingly, there is a new rising phenomenon of educated youths returning to their villages and being unable to adjust to the reality of available economic opportunities or activities in the villages.
The hill economy is experiencing de-industrialisation as growth rates in household industry employment fell to as low as 0.52 pc during 2001-2011 from a high of 9.41 pc growth during 1981-1991. The trade and commerce and service sector employment in the hills have grown at the highest rate of 7.37 pc during 201-2011, but this sector has not been able to absorb the increase in workforce and the exodus from agriculture. The fact that agriculture did not attract the educated youths is starkly seen in that there was a -3.42 pc negative growth of cultivators during 1991-2001.  However people soon found out that industry and the service sector could not provide them dignified livelihoods and relief from poverty. The result was a back to the farm and agriculture wave and the growth rate of agricultural employment was a high 6.17 pc during 2001-2011. Back to the farm neo-ideologies are today leading to the regeneration of the hill economy as farm diversification into high value vegetable and fruits live stocks are beginning to have positive impact on income and employment and secondary effects of nascent industrial cultures.
These positive swings in productive base of agriculture and industry as well as a rising service sector in the hill economy has given the State Government the strategic policy handle of creating development nodes in the form of Model Villages in the hill districts of Manipur, under the ‘Go to Hills’ Mission. When the people themselves yearn for growth and development, no Government can ignore them and their aspiration.
Kachai village has a commendably high literacy rate of 89.34 percent with a sizable population of 1065 persons and 214 households. This old village has 84.11 pc of the households as cultivating landholders, a truly agricultural village. With little technological change and modern inputs, productivity of rice in the village is reasonably good at 2175 kg per hectare, with a per capita availability of rice at 120 kg, much above the average availability of 74.39 kg in surveyed wet rice villages. High yielding variety paddy has just entered the village in two holdings and over 90 pc of the holdings are irrigated through rivers and streams. Kachai village has commendably diversified into high value crops and 48 pc of households grow vegetables and 33 percent of them market their surpluses. Potatoes, cabbages and beans are the main cash crops, with potato earning Rs 4,81,824 lakhs for 40 cultivating households. The village has a livestock density of 12.77 per 100 households, with pigs constituting 66.18 pc and cattle at 19.12 pc. Progressively 19 households had fisheries.
Kachai is however known for its distinct and geo-tagged ‘Kachai Lemon’, on which the economy of the village can much depend upon in the near future. Half of all households have lemon orchards of various sizes in plantations, besides smaller orchards on homestead land. There were some 12,195 mature plants on the plantations but ominously only 44.24 pc of these mature plants bore fruits, the rest having become senile or unproductive. Most of the plantations are below one acre and with 11,000 mature plants, giving each household average annual income of Rs 96,000. Larger plantations could generate higher annual incomes ranging from Rs 1,20,000 to Rs 2,49,000. Homestead orchards could generate annual incomes of between 16,000 and 59,000. Based on these plantations, cottage industries of pickles and juices had sprung up and even a ‘Fruit Processing’ plant was built by the Government. Unfortunately the machinery never came and the building stands dilapidated as a distinct mark of Government apathy and village disinterestedness. But then, the villagers have still persevered, Kachai lemon cultivation is spreading to neighbouring villages and the State Government has helped organise the annual Kachai Lemon Festival.
Interestingly Kachai being and interior village some 52 km from the district headquarters of Ukhrul, it has still kept alive other household industries, specially handloom and handicrafts, unlike urban centric villages where industries tend to be wiped out by urban competition. It is the persistence of industries and a vibrant and diversified agriculture that markets its surpluses, that has prompted the State Government to ‘own’ the village as a model village to be emulated by one and all. Is Kachai village ready or can it rise to the occasion of a golden opportunity for the future of its villagers and district.
Kachai village has to act as one and the Village Authority rise to the occasion. Land reforms and Zoning, within the village land system, has to be put in place. For example, land has to be earmarked for rice, vegetable cash crops, fruits plantations, habitation, industry etc and equity in distribution and entitlements ensured. Village control over land as a common property and guarantees by the Village Authority as collateral can lead to credit flows for development investments. The stepping in of the venerable Church in social organization of the productive base in the village can also usher in new institutional structures of quasi privatisation of common property and resources that benefit the entire village individually or at the community levels. These are but some possibilities of social transformations at the institutional level that can fasttrack the proposed model village experiment of State-Village partnership for sustainable growth and development.
Ultimately it is the people’s will that prevails, for the better or for the worse. It is the people in their collective that has to step out first and propose its own model of development that is in tune with global and national development paradigm, that which is sustainable, that which looks into the future and that which sincerely seeks to balance the demands of the present as well as future generations. The Government or the Almighty only help in solving our own problems, they do not solve our problems.
Kachai has proved its resilience in surviving challenging environments and survival crisis. The village has been astutely negotiating the dependency syndrome of many village economies, maintaining its dignity and distinct economic value bases. Kachai can be a model village for other hill villages. The only demanding element left to be addressed is whether Kachai can mobilise the will of the village to persuade the State to keep a promise that has been made under the ‘Go To Hills’ mission.
First published in the Souvenir, Kachai Lemon Festival 2022.