About NorthEast


The North-East

The North-East constitutes eight states and covers an area of 2.62 lakh sq.km. accounting for 7.9% of total geographical area of the country. With a total population of 39 million (2001), it accounts for 3.8% of total population of India. It is a region with strong natural and human resources. More than 64 per cent of the total geographical area is covered by thick and deciduous forest (164.101 million hectares under forest). Except a small valley plain of about 30 per cent, the rest of about 70 per cent of the total area is hilly and mountainous track of very steep to moderate slope. Thirty per cent of valley plain consists of upland, lowland, deep water and very deep water ecological situation. The North-East in totality is placed amongst the poorest regions of the country with per capita per annum NNP at Rs. 12407 compared to the national average at Rs. 17978 i.e. about 69% of the all India per capita NNP. The number of people dependent on agriculture is over 86 per cent. By and large production condition in agriculture is traditional. Rice is the major crop in the region. The agricultural productivity is the lowest, irrigation facility almost non-existent in many of the areas and consumption of fertilizer is extremely low in the region.

Roots of organic farming in the North-East

Organic farming is not new to the farming community of the North-East. The farmers have retained traditional practices and have shown an inclination towards organic farming that is being harnessed for the development of the region with ecological benefits. Several forms of organic farming are being successfully practiced in diverse climate, particularly in rain fed, tribal, mountains and hill areas of the region. The region provides considerable scope and opportunity for organic farming due to least utilization of chemical inputs. It is estimated that 18 million hectare of such land is available in the North-East, which can be exploited for organic production. With the sizable acreage under naturally organic/default organic cultivation, the North-East has tremendous potential to grow crops organically and emerge as a major producer of organic products.

Considering the hill ecology, the possible adverse effects of most modern methods in industry and agriculture on the plains, its abundance of difficult yet fertile tracts of land, its tribal customs of land tenure, its economic strength in terms of livestock ownership and limitations of terrain and irrigation, organic farming seems as a promising avenue for development.

Favourable Conditions

The region has remarkable advantages of fertile and organically rich soils, ample rainfall and water resources, river valleys, swamps and streams and great climatic diversity supporting diverse cropping possibilities. On the other hand the slopes and heavy rain make soil matters unstable and acidic and the slope and conditions favourable to rapid vegetative proliferation make agriculture and land management tedious and highly labour intensive process. The soils are also suitable for cultivation of a number of fruit crops such as jackfruit, arecanut, mango, orange etc, which are commonly grown but mostly for home consumption and sustenance purposes. A large part of the region is forested contributing significantly to the 22% coverage at the national level.

Growing Popularity

The popularity of organic farming is gradually increasing and now organic agriculture is practised in almost all the states of the Northeast, and its share of agricultural land and farms is growing. Among all farming systems, organic farming is gaining wide attention among farmers, entrepreneurs, policy makers and agricultural scientists of the Northeast for varied reasons such as it minimizes the dependence on chemical inputs (fertilizers; pesticides; herbicides and other agro-chemicals) thus safeguards/improves quality of resources, and environment. It is labour intensive and provides an opportunity to increase rural employment and achieve long-term improvements in the quality of resource base. The interest in organic agriculture is growing because it places more reliance on the natural and human resources available, requires less financial input and provides safe food while conserving the environment.

Economics of organic farming

The demand for “organic food” is rapidly growing. Certified “organic food” is presently grown on about 31 million ha in the world (1.1 million ha in India). Today, the global organic food market is growing at the rates of 20 to 30 per cent annum with the current global trade of around $26 billion. Within a decade it is expected to reach a whopping $100 billion. However, India’s share in the organic food market is only 0.18 percent that comes from 45,000 hectares of land under organic farming. It is in this context the northeastern region can play a major role. There are two main reasons that make the region most viable area for organic farming. The naturally evolved technology practice can be guided to follow a more organised course for greater benefit in national and international markets. At the same time livestock and vegetable products promote value addition through processing activities and promotion of systematic organic farming and food processing can help in drawing investment which will enable meaningful participation of the labour force with gender equity and integration of the region with outside economy while retaining indigenous characters that deserve conservation.

Recent Developments

The Agricultural and Processed food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) has identified three northeastern states – Sikkim, Mizoram and Nagaland to launch the organic farming in the region. Tripura’s pineapple and Assam’s joha rice are already being promoted as organic. Mizoram and Manipur may go for organic passion fruits. Opportunities are beckoning the organic farmers and they are hopeful that the region can become a major supplier of organic foods and products as the region has a natural advantage.

Global Certification

Of course, non-use of chemicals does not make a farming system organic; it is more than that you need to manage the entire food production chain and observe a strict organic farming regime. Besides, there are other aspects involved in the entire organic farming systems and trade. Most important of all is the certification of the organic zones, production processes and the organic farm products. The north-eastern states managed to achieve the distinction of emerging as a hub for production and export of organic spices in India. The global certifying agency Indocert has certified lands 300 hectare of land in Meghalaya for turmeric and ginger cultivation, Manipur for ginger and turmeric cultivation, and Arunachal Pradesh for black pepper. According to the Spices Board, currently the total area under conversion or certification process is 2220.58 hectare (ha). Demand for organically produced foods is growing rapidly in developed countries and the products command a premium. The board estimates that the region can create exportable surpluses at competitive prices so that the top slot occupied by the country in the international spice market would be maintained. By default, the land and agriculture practice is organic and with some efforts from the state, the region could export organic spices, board source said. Organic spice exports from this region are likely to get a big boost after receiving this Organic Certification. The Spices Board expects to export organic spices worth Rs 240-260 crore by 2012 AD.

Organic Blocks or Organic Villages

Organic Farming is becoming important in the agriculture sector in the North-East, largely through the efforts of small groups of farmers. The government is encouraging to establish organic blocks or villages for integrated Organic Farming. Farmer cooperative Associations have been asked to take up a few organic blocks for organic farming, prepare projects and submit them to the Government of India. Meanwhile, the Government of India has earmarked Rs. 100 crore during the Tenth Five-Year plan for the development of organic farming. Northeast can take advantage of this opportunity to transform its underused farmlands into a highly-remunerative enterprise, creating rural jobs and environmental sustainability.

Constrains

The communal land holding system of most tribal custom, lack of clear-cut ownership laws, relatively free access to land for cultivation prevent land in physical terms from being any serious constraining factor in agriculture. Given the extensity of geographical area relative to population, the forested and sloppy terrains and the land rights, the farm size could even incorporate an element of choice. Irrigation intensity is low as the mountain terrain has somehow made it difficult to exploit the ground water potential and in most states sources other than canals and wells supply most of all the irrigation water. The cropping pattern however suggests the known tendency to concentrate in food grains, rice in this case, mainly driven by the urge for subsistence.

Jhum or shifting Cultivation

Jhum cultivation was a full proof system for the people of the NE region; they have been doing it for centuries. However, today we say jhum is not good because the jhum cycle has reduced. Had the cycle been 10-15 years, jhum still would have continued to be one of the best practices. But because of the constraint in land availability and population explosion we cannot leave a land fallow for 10-15 years now as it was done before. And, because they have to come back to the site within a period of 3 to 5 years, that particular land does not get enough time for natural degeneration of soil fertility.

A large part of the population in Mizoram, Nagaland and Megahalaya is tribal. Among the tribal practices in agriculture, jhuming is prevalent, covering about 90% of agricultural land in Mizoram and Nagaland. This traditional practice evolved through the pressure to generate food under difficult circumstances has deleterious effect on forest and soil fertility and has been discouraged greatly by the government. Jhum or shifting cultivation is economically non-viable and ecologically damaging. In terms of production, too, the traditional systems do not promise anything rewarding to the farmers. At the moment over 16 lakh ha areas are under the shifting cultivation in the northeast where no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, which can be immediately converted into vast organic zones.

The commissions/committees set up by the Govt. of India recognized the potential for horticulture development in North-East and recommended that a concerted effort needed to be made to exploit this potential in the interest of increasing farm incomes and generating employment. The region has favourable and diverse agro-climatic conditions, with abundant rainfall, offering immense scope for horticultural development. The wide genetic resource base and several production systems available in the Region also make the Region suitable for the production of a large range of horticultural crops.

A steering committee on organic food under the chairmanship of a great agriculturist Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, identified the region as the priority area for organic farming. The renowned agricultural described the region as a cultural and genetic paradise and granary of mega biodiversity in terms of flora and fauna as well as micro-flora and micro-fauna. Northeast India’s upland areas can be the major source of organic Foods. “It’s time,” Dr. Swaminathan, told a gathering of distinguished agro-scientists at Guahati a few years ago, “that we move from the Green Revolution to the Ever Green Revolution.” This might as well begin from the North-Eeast. The region could become the country’s biggest source for organic foods and a major export center for the global organic market.

Paradise and prosperity

Organic agriculture has contributed to a significant increase in profitability and household incomes, and improved soil conditions. It has also contributed to the reduction of environmental risks for producers of some high value crops in areas with favourable market access. But it has had less impact for producers in more remote areas.

The northeastern region is an unexplored paradise for agribusiness. Sooner it is harvested, better it will be for dawn of prosperity and peace in the region.