4 Status, Constraints and Strategies for Agricultural
Development in Assam

Arun Kumar Deka
Department of Agriculture, Government of Assam
Guwahati, Assam

Introduction

Agriculture plays a vital role in the economy of Assam contributing about 35 per cent to the state domestic product in 1996-97 at constant price (1980-81). The Government has, therefore, assigned very high priority to agriculture. This was reflected through a quantum jump in rice production to 39 lakh tonnes in 1999-2000 from the level of 33.82 lakh tonnes and 32.54 lakh tonnes in 1997-98 and 1998-99, respectively. This was achieved through creation of assured shallow tubewell (STW) irrigation with the assistance of World Bank (ARIASP) and NABARD (Special Kishan Yojana) scheme. Although regular flood, drought, heavy population pressure on land and infrastructural weakness are the impediments to growth, yet the farmers have started to increase production through technological innovations and appropriate Government policies. During the next quarter century, the tempo of raising productivity and production must be accelerated along with integration of our economy with outside economies necessitated in the aftermath of liberalization.

Present Status

Distribution and ownership concentration of land (1990-91):    The Economic Survey, Assam 1998-99 painted a grim picture of land distribution among different size classes of operational holding. The marginal holding with less than 1 ha of land accounted for 60.3 per cent of total holding and 19.3 per cent of total operated area in the state. The share of small holding with size class between 1-2 ha is 22.2 per cent of total holding and 24.5 per cent of the total operated area. On the other hand, the large holding (20 ha and above) constituted only 0.09 per cent of the number of operational holding with 11.3 per cent of the total operated area of the state. An important feature revealed by the report is that the average size of operated holding in the state recorded a declining trend over the successive census which was 1.37 ha in 1976-77 and declined to 1.27 ha In 1990-91. However, large-scale organization of Field Management Committees (FMCs) among farmers of the state to protect them from economic vulnerability has to an extent contributed towards instilling self-confidence and enabling them to participate in agricultural development process. The process of strengthening and re-organization of FMCs have recently been initiated for making them more effective in fulfilling the objectives.

The provisional estimates of land utilization statistics of the state indicate that Assam has an estimated 39.94 lakh ha of gross cropped area of which net area sown is about 27.51 lakh ha. This constitutes about 35 per cent of the total geographical area of the state. The cropping intensity of the state stands at 145 per cent. With the improvement of irrigation infrastructure of the state vis-ŕ-vis installation of a large number of shallow tube wells, the cropping intensity has increased to a great extent from the year 1999-2000 onwards. However, the exact increase in total cropped area is under process of estimation.

Horticulture

The total area under major horticultural crops in the state is 5.43 lakh ha, out of which fruit crops occupy an area of 1.05 lakh ha, spices 0.79 lakh ha, tuber crops 0.86 lakh ha, nut crops 0.95 lakh ha, and vegetables occupy 1.79 lakh ha. The existing area and production of major horticultural crops in Assam and the predominant district (1998-99) are given in table 1.

Table 1
Area, production and productivity of fruits and vegetables

  Name of the crop Area
in ha
Production
in tonnes
Av. yield in kg District where predominantly grown
Fruits Banana 41885 581884 13892 Barpeta, Kamrup, Nagaon, Cachar, Nalbari, Golpara, Jorhat, Golaghat, Sonitpur, Sibsatgar, Tinsukia
Pineapple 13582 208993 15387 Kamrup, Nagaon, Karbi Anglong, N.C. Hills, Cachar
Orange 5720 67659 11820 Tinsukia, Karbi Anglong, North Cachar, Kamrup, Gopalpara, Darrang, Dibrugarh
Papaya 7347 108479 14765 Nagaon, Darrang, Kamrup, Karbi Anglong, N. Cachar, Nalbari, Barpeta, Sonitpur, Dhubri
Assam Lemon 8705 47233 5426 All districts of Assam
Guava 3681 47611 12934 All districts of Assam
Litchi 4028 16815 4175 All districts of Assam-mainly Kamrup, Sonitpur and Bongaigaon
Jack-fruit 17298 153645 8882 All districts of Assam
Mango 2570 17173 682 All districts of Assam
Total   104816 1249492 1192  
Spices Chilli 14724 9619 658 Dhubri, Barpeta, Darrang, Nagaon
Turmeric 10729 7416 691 Kamrup, Darrang, Nagaon, Barpeta, Sonitpur, Nalbari, Bongaigaon
Onion 8083      
Ginger 16244 113771 7280 N.C. Hills, Cachar, Karbi Anglong, Kamrup, Barpeta, Sonitpur, Nagaon
Coriander 19346 14354 742 Dhubri, Kamrup, Barpeta, Sonitpur, Nagaon, Morigaon, Darrang, Goalpara
Garlic 7430 21694 2920 Dhubri, Kamrup, Barpeta, Nagaon, Lakhimpur, Goalpara, Darrang
Black Pepper 2077 2810 1353 Jorhat, Sibsagar, Kamrup, Nagaon, Golaghat, Dibrugarh, Cachar, Barpeta
Total   78633 188076 2392  
Nut crops Coconut 20166 149866 (in '000 nos) 69 (per tree) nos Nagaon, Nalbari, Kamrup, Morigaon
Arecanut 74457 55355 (Dry nuts) 131 nos (per tree) All Districts of Assam
Tubers. Potato 76958 611077 9740 Barpeta, Darrang, Kamrup, Sonitpur, Nagaon, Dhubri, Nalbari
Sweet Potato 943 32437 3438 Dhubri, Kamrup
Tapioca 2798 13261 4739 Kokrajhar, Nalbari, Darrang, Karbi Anglong, Goalpara
Total   86391 656775 7602  
Vegetables Kharif 56857 537786 9411 All districts of Assam
Rabi 121622 1845435 15230 All districts of Assam
Total   178479 2383221 13205  

Irrigation:    There were hardly 0.61 lakh shallow tubewells installed in Assam till 1995-96. In the subsequent four years, there was a quantum jump both in terms of number of tubewells installed and irrigated area. Under the ARIASP programme (World Bank) and SKY, NABARD, an additional 1.47 lakh shallow tubewells were installed by January 2001 (0.47 lakh under ARIASP and 1.0 lakh under SKY). This will provide assured irrigation to 2.95 lakh ha area. By adding the irrigated area under the shallow tubewells and other sources, the total assured irrigation will increase to 5.27 lakh ha. Presently, 20.7 per cent of the net cropped area and 35.68 per cent of the gross cropped area is covered by irrigation.

Fertilizer consumption:    Fertilizer consumption (NPK) in Assam has increased from 2.4 kg/ha in 1971-72 to 29.3 kg/ha in1999-2000. It is projected that in the year 2000-2001, consumption of NPK would be 50 kg/ha and 70 kg/ha in 2005-2006. Rest of the unmet requirements would be met by integrated nutrient management (INM) method in conjunction with bio fertilizer, green manure and organic manure.

Seed:    Non-availability of quality seed is a perennial problem particularly of paddy and mustard. In order to address the problem of seed, the Government of Assam leased out about 40 seed farms to private entrepreneurs with an idea of producing required certified seeds in the state. The seed farms, which are already leased out, have started producing certified seeds of local demand. Thus, the private participation in seed production and marketing through seed merchants/traders and entrepreneurs should be encouraged for attaining self-sufficiency in the State.

Agricultural Mechanization

The growth of mechanization in Assam is slow. However, after introduction of large-scale shallow tube-well irrigation, requirement of farm power has gone up. The following are the estimates of power available for raising agricultural crops in Assam.

Category of power Amount (HP per ha)
Human power 0.090
Animal power 0.204
Mechanical power 0.008
Total available power 0.302

The current power availability to the farmers of the state is barely 0.3 HP per ha, which has become one of the constraints towards increasing area under double or multiple cropping. In order to supplement the inadequate draught power, farm mechanization to fulfill the need for multiple cropping is a challenging task.

Constraints

Agricultural development in the state confronts a number of constraints, which are illustrated below.

Low availability of farm power:    The current power availability to the farmers in the state is barely 0.3 H.P. per ha as against 1 H.P in the neighbor-hood. Low availability of farm power has become one of the constraints to double or multiple cropping. This has been acutely felt after expansion of area under irrigation through large-scale installation of shallow tube-wells.

Inadequate availability of seeds and planting materials:    The NE states are not self-sufficient in production of required seeds except for paddy, mustard. Hence, the region is almost dependent on outside supply to meet its requirement of seeds. The infrastructural inadequacy and humid sub-tropical climate of the state make the process of seed production a complex procedure. Horticulture development has suffered from inadequacy of quality planting materials. This is due to lack of trained personnel and standard mother plants.

Poor post-harvest technology and facility:    After the expansion of micro-irrigation through installation of shallow tubewells, the area under summer rice has increased considerably. The state government has launched an ambitious programme to increase the area of summer paddy up to 10.0 lakh ha. The harvesting period of summer rice coincides with high rainfall making the process of drying and threshing difficult. The post-harvest handling of summer rice viz. threshing, drying and milling will continue to remain a problem till some innovative measures are introduced. The processing of pulses and non-traditional oilseeds like sunflower and groundnut is also a problem in the state. In horticulture sector, there is huge post-harvest loss due to lack of technology, product information and inadequate processing infrastructure.

Poor marketing infrastructure:    Marketing has been a major problem. The price spread between the producer and consumer is too wide due to absence of organized market. The storage facility including the proper storage technol een a problematic area. The cold chain system is virtually non-existent in the state. Absence of agro-processing industry make the farmers vulnerable to market volatility. Collection and dissemination of market information system is hardly adequate. Transportation of commodities from rural area is far from satisfactory due to poor rural connectivity.

Chronic flood:    Approximately 3 lakh ha of crop area is subject to annual flood. High rainfall also makes the management of the crop difficult. These factors act as deterrent to the investment on farming.

Recommended Strategies

The strategies for agricultural development will be directed towards generating enough employment and achieving the targets fixed for agricultural production by the year 2005-06 (Table 2).

Table 2
Crops and targets for 2005-2006

Crops Targets
Rice 47.54 Lakh tonnes
Wheat 6.34 Lakh tonnes
Pulses 1.40 Lakh tonnes
Oilseed 4.23 Lakh tonnes
Fruits 16.09 Lakh tonnes
Vegetables 39.71 Lakh tonnes
Spices 2.61 Lakh tonnes

In order to achieve the above targets, the following strategies are proposed (Table 3).

Table 3
Strategies for agricultural development

Strategies Activities
Conservation of natural resources 1 Protection of forest and soil
2 Conservation of rainwater
3 Development of natural ecosystem like swamp and beel
Poverty alleviation strategy 1 Sustainable method of agricultural production
2 Participation and Involvement of women
3 Land report or access to input to marginal or small farmers
Self-sufficiency in food 1 Increase productivity of rice
2 Pulse crop promotion
3 Oilseed development programme
4 Horticultural crops
Hill agriculture Integrated approach to problem-ridden hill agriculture
Employment generation 1 Service sector employment
2 Farm sector employment
Peoples’ participation Improvisation of FMC and SHG
Hi-tech agriculture 1 Mechanization
2 Bio-technology and GMO
3 Phytosanitation and food sanitation
4 Information technology (newer technology and market intelligence)
Agricultural trade Effective marketing and commerce
Infrastructure 1 Irrigation
2 Road transport
3 Storage and post-harvest management
4 Agricultural credit and banking
5 Agro-processing facilities
Human resource development 1 Farmers’ training programme

Detailed tables and relevant data are available with the author (s)