Assam has made a significant turnaround in attaining self-sufficiency in rice in the last one decade or more,prompting the Assam Agricultural University (AAU) to set for itself a target of helping the state achieve a record output of 100 lakh metric tonnes of rice per annum in less than a decade. And to make this dream true,it has envisaged a three-pronged strategy to share with the state government,which includes introducing rice varieties that are not only high-yielding but also submergence-tolerant,apart from going aggressively for double-cropping across the length and breadth of the state.
About 4.5 lakh hectares of Assams total rice-growing area of roughly 25 lakh hectares is chronically flood-prone. Moreover,while the land-holding size is very small when compared to most other states,reluctance on part of most farmers to give up the age-old practice of mono-cropping is another major hurdle. But things are gradually changing,and farmers are looking at producing more from whatever size of land-holding they have, says AAU Vice-Chancellor Dr K M Bujarbaruah.
Assam,which used to be a rice-deficit state since the devastating earthquake of 1950 that had changed the course of rivers,has witnessed a major change,with 2000-01 proving to be the first rice-surplus year in the last six decades. Last year,the state had a record 50 lakh metric tonne output of rice,but the AAU says this is only half the actual potential of the state.
Technology and research are already with us. Now that the farmers are willing and the state government has also come out to support them in a big way,nobody can stop Assam from producing 100 lakh MT per annum. It is achievable,provided we go for double-cropping,adopt various high-yielding varieties and introduce submergence-tolerant varieties wherever required, says Bujarbaruah.
With the AAU concentrating on rice research,it has alone come up with 47 varieties of rice in the last five decades,including a couple of varieties that can withstand submergence in floodwater for several weeks. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR),too,has contributed by coming out with 13 high-yielding varieties. Bujarbaruah points out that most of these have been developed with the integration of genes suitable for different agro-climatic conditions.
It is very important to identify different varieties of crops,particularly rice,for different agro-ecological zones,and given the fact that 4.5 lakh hectares of land in Assam is chronically flood-prone,the farmers will immensely benefit from using the submergence-tolerant ones, he says.
Stressing on boosting the rice output,Agriculture Minister Nilamoni Sen Deka says more than 58 per cent of Assams crop area nearly 16.22 lakh hectares is being used for just one crop. With most other states already into multiple cropping mode,a primarily agricultural state like Assam cannot afford to lag behind, says Deka. In December 2011,the department launched Mission Double Cropping,fixing a target of covering about 2.09 lakh hectares of land currently under single cropping in the first year.
The department intends to cover 6.99 lakh farmers in the one year beginning this Rabi season. We are also trying to raise Assams cropping intensity from the existing 142 per cent to 149 per cent in one year, says Agriculture Director Dr Kabindra Borkakati. The current all-India cropping intensity rate is 139 per cent.
But what is also causing concern is the increasing use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Agricultural land is fast disappearing,making way for industrial and housing purposes. This requires urgent attention if Assam really intends to double its rice output,and the government must take firm steps to protect agricultural land, says Dr Birendra Kumar Sarma,an Emeritus Scientist of ICAR,who has done intensive work on rice.