[Yojana Archive] Agriculture and Sustainable Development

In the earlier edition about North East Region, we studied about:

This article is an extension to the various summaries of the July edition of Yojana where all dimensions will be covered in coming weeks.

The North-Eastern Region (NER) has several unique and unparalleled features; fertile land, abundant water resources, evergreen dense forests, high and dependable rainfall, flora and fauna and a mixture of socio-economic, political, ethnic and cultural diversity.

Agriculture in NER

  • The NER comprising of eight States has a total geographical area which is nearly 9.12% of the total area of the country.
  • Rural population in the region is around 80%. In the absence of major industries except in the state of Assam, the society is agrarian and depends on agriculture and allied sector for livelihood and other support.
  • The agricultural production system is characterized by low cropping intensity (114%), subsistence level and mono-cropping.
  • Mixed farming system is the order as most of the farmers want to produce their household food and nutritional need without having to depend on outside sources.
  • The system, therefore, supports horticulture and animal husbandry partly due to a preference for non-vegetarian food.

Cropping patterns

  • The net sown area is highest in Assam (34.12%), followed by Tripura (23.48%). Arunachal Pradesh has the lowest net sown area in the region.
  • Cropping intensity is highest in Tripura (156.5%), followed by Manipur (152.1%), Mizoram (136.36%), and Assam (123.59%).
  • About 1.6-million-hectares of area are under shifting cultivation in North East region.
  • The region receives an annual rainfall of 2000 mm accounting for around 10% of the country’s total precipitation.
  • The soil of the region is acidic to strongly acidic in reaction. The soils are however rich in organic matter.

Key features

  • Topographical limitations: Although the landholding in the region appears to be higher, the entire holding cannot be used for agricultural purposes due to topographical disadvantages.
  • Rice as staple: Rice dominates agriculture, but the productivity is low and production risky. Farming is predominantly rice-based with a little exception in the state of Sikkim where maize is a dominating crop.
  • Unevenness: The NER is extremely diverse: uneven land, high and variable rainfall pattern and ethnicity.
  • Animal husbandry: Various combinations of crop-livestock-fish-silk are followed in the region but such diversification contributes negligibly.
  • Landholding: The preponderance of small and marginal (S&M) farmers is an important feature of the region.

Combating poverty

On account of complete dependence on agriculture, its vulnerability to natural calamities such as floods, submergence as well as droughts has deteriorated rural life and rural poverty has become rampant.

The deficit in food grains especially rice in the NER is increasing over the years. The approaches and strategies to increase rice production are given below:

  1. Increasing seed replacement rate.
  2. Enhancing varietal replacement rate.
  3. Increasing cropping intensity through assured irrigation.
  4. Expansion of effective irrigation facilities.
  5. Adoption of more intensive cultivation practices.
  6. Maintaining soil health and providing judicious soil nutrients.
  7. Revisiting the extension mechanism.
  8. Facilitation of credit, finance and crop insurance.
  9. Marketing and creation of rural storage infrastructure, and
  10.  Farm mechanization

Livestock Sector in NER

  • Assam which has the largest cattle production in the region has slow growth in milk production which may be because it has a maximum of indigenous breeds in the total cattle population.
  • Manipur and Mizoram witnessed decline in per capita availability of milk while it has increased in other states.
  • Productivity of milk in case of buffaloes shows that the buffaloes in the region are very low yielding compared to other parts of India.

Policy Perspectives

  • Despite the abundant natural resources, congenial climate and rich human capital, the NER has failed to reap the benefits of huge opportunities for societal welfare.
  • In effect, the agricultural economies are falling back into the vicious cycle of low productivity, unemployment, low income and poverty and continue to limp, and this has increased the social threat perceptions.
  • Hence a synergy is needed among the inter-disciplinary research community, policy planners and implementers, along with civil society to deal with the multifaceted situation.

It is felt that the region needs appropriate policy and investment to boost the development process.

  • Flood management: NER is typically a rain-fed system. Here flood escaping production system is required, in flood-prone areas, where Boro rice is a promising crop enterprise.
  • Modernization: Numerous aromatic and medicinal plants can be practiced with low-cost and resource conserving practices (Zero-tillage, System of Rice Intensification, etc.) to meet the growing domestic as well as international demand. Agriculture plus is required. That is, crop production should coexist with livestock, plantation, floriculture, medicinal crops and sericulture systems.
  • Diversification: The hilly terrains suit crop diversification with high value horticulture crops accompanied by livestock and sericulture. The shifting cultivation requires an innovative strategy for improving productivity of rice and other crops, flowers like orchids and livestock.
  • Agro-processing: Agro-processing sector hitherto is a neglected area but it has high potential to add value and reduce post-harvest losses. By encouraging fresh initiatives in ogre-processing, packaging and exploring of newer marketing avenues, the region can take advantages of high potential cross-border trade with surrounding countries.
  • R&D: R&D support systems for generating small and marginal farmers’ friendly new agricultural technology should be given. Therefore, there is a need for boosting R&D investment in agriculture, which already is a low key area in the region.
  • Regional Database: It is a serious constraint to effective policy analysis in the agricultural economy in the region. Basic tool of e-governance is necessary in this regard.
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