Intro: Many people in India and the world are unaware of the fact that the North-East India has potential to become India’s major source of fruits and horticulture
products but the region’s potential has remained largely untapped because of inherent weaknesses.
North-East India is made up of eight States, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. Yet traditionally the region has been known mainly for Assam’s tea, oil and the one horned rhino of Kaziranga National Park. Even today many people in the country are unaware of the fact that the North-East has the potential to become India’s major source of fruits and horticulture products. It is a storehouse of exotic flowers like Orchids, Chrysanthemums, Carnations etc. Its forests have a rich variety of medicinal and aromatic plants. And it is an attractive destination for eco and wildlife tourism. However, the region’s potential has remained largely untapped because of inherent weaknesses like underdeveloped infrastructure, poor communications, insufficient market links and the lack of proper exposure.
Geographically, it is a region of mountains and valleys bisected by swift flowing mountain streams and rivers many of which are the tributaries of the Brahmaputra. The Brahmaputra River traverses a length of 800 kms through Assam, meandering on through Bangladesh to finally disgorge into the Bay of Bengal. Sikkim which has also been clubbed with the seven North-Eastern states is not contiguous with the region. It however shares the same geographical features. All the states have agrarian economies. Besides traditional agriculture, the region’s verdant forests, fertile valleys and agro-climatic conditions make it suitable for horticulture and floriculture.
The region produces Bananas, Pineapples, Oranges and Jackfruits on a large scale. These varieties cover 60 per cent of the cultivated area under fruit crops and account for 70 per cent of the fruits produced. Litchees, Apples, Passion Fruits, Cashew Nuts, Tapioca and Coconuts are also produced but on a smaller scale. Areca Nuts are also a major product of the region. Ginger, Turmeric and Chillies are the main spices produced here, while Potatoes are the major tuber crop. In fact Assam’s “Bhoot Jolokia” has been acknowledged as the hottest chilly in the world.
According to a study conducted by CMI Social Research Centre for the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Development Authority (APEDA), New Delhi, in 2005, the region’s total annual production of fruits was a whopping 23.35 lakh tonnes. The break-up was as follows: Oranges: 2,78,904 Metric Tonnes (MT), Bananas: 7,61,293 MT, Pineapples: 5,39,577 MT, Papaya: 1,35,892 MT, Jackfruits: 4,29,147 MT and other fruits: 1,90,187 MT. The figures for major spices were Ginger: 2, 79, 394 MT, Turmeric: 29,078 MT, Chillies: 59,075 MT and Potatoes: 8, 31, 591 MT.
After taking into account post harvest losses, wastage and local consumption it was found that there were huge surpluses available for value addition and exports to the national and international markets. The surplus quantities available were Oranges: 74,564 MT, Bananas: 96,308 MT, Pineapples: 1,84,391 MT, Papaya: 20,320 MT, Jackfruit: 1,18,000 MT, Ginger:1,51,106 MT, Turmeric: 10,200 MT, Chillies: 34,274 MT and Potatoes: 1,51,862 MT. Since then under the initiative of the National Horticulture Mission the quantities have increased. But due to a lack of adequate infrastructure like storage, warehousing, food processing facilities, transportation and market linkages a large proportion of these surpluses are underpriced and grossly underutilised. With better utility and marketing these surpluses can help increase farmers’ incomes and generate rural employment through food processing/agro-based industries, warehousing, cold chain, distribution networks etc.
The North-East’s forests are home to a wide variety of flowers, medicinal and aromatic plants. The flora is indigenous to this part of the country. Orchids and ornamental plants like the Rose, Chrysanthemums, Carnations etc grow naturally. Moreover the forested hills abound with a diverse range of herbs, plants and vines that have healing properties. In Assam itself, there are more than 900 types of such precious herbs and plants with the Brahmaputra Valley having 50 species of commercial value. There is a good demand for these medicinal and aromatic plants in the pharmaceutical industries and perfumeries here and abroad. At present floriculture is pursued mainly as a cottage industry in the region. For full fledged growth it has to be integrated from production to marketing.
Besides Kaziranga, there are many other wildlife sanctuaries with a rich variety of flora and fauna in the region. Different indigenous communities live along its river banks providing a kaleidoscope of ethnic life. For trekkers and nature lovers there are the forested hills with their rich bio-diversity, scenic beauty, rafting and angling. And the miles and miles of tea gardens replete with the scented air of fresh tea can be an invigorating experience for a tired traveller. On the whole the North-East provides the tourist a unique opportunity for a rendezvous with Mother Nature.
The North-East therefore is not only about insurgency, ethnic violence and remoteness. It has the potential to become one of the most developed regions of the country. While it’s unique geographical location bordering four countries can provide India the much needed overland access to the economies of South-East Asia.
Pranjit Agarwala (The writer is an entrepreneur and a freelance writer based in Guwahati)