Rice production in Assam declining

GUWAHATI, June 14 – The Agriculture Department is embarking on a long-term initiative with thrust on technological intervention, irrigation, and storage and market linkage to boost the State’s agriculture sector.

Talking to The Assam Tribune, Agriculture Minister Pramila Rani Brahma today said that the dwindling trend of rice production since 2000-01 made it imperative to resort to technological interventions in the form of high-yielding and hybrid seeds, water supply through power pumps and soil health mapping besides facilitating storage and market linkage.

Total rice production (ahu, sali and summer paddies) in the State plummeted to 29.16 lakh MT in 2006-07 and marginally increased to 33.19 lakh MT in 2007-08. It was 39.98 lakh MT (2000-01), 38.54 lakh MT (2001-02), 37.38 lakh MT (2002-03), 38.81 lakh MT (2003-04), 34.70 lakh MT (2004-05) and 35.52 lakh MT (2005-06). The anticipated yield for 2008-09 is 41 lakh MT.

“We are trying to popularise high-yielding and hybrid varieties – the latter for the first time – among the farmers through filed demonstrations. Arize-6444, PAC-832 and KRH are three of the hybrid seeds being demonstrated covering an area of 5,920 hectares,” Brahma said, adding that crop diversification was another thrust area.

Rainfall, on which the State’s agriculture is largely dependent, has shown a continuous deficit trend since 2005 (-6.7 per cent), followed by 2006 (-28 pc), 2007 (-14.6 pc) and 2008 (-15.8 pc).

“We fear that there could be 22 per cent to 30 per cent decrease in summer paddy yield this year owing to water scarcity. The diesel-operated water pumps have not been cost-effective and so we are going to introduce power pumps, with 4,000 sets to be distributed soon under the National Food Security Mission and Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana,” she said.

Brahma said that the situation had been complicated by poor coverage of cropland under irrigation schemes. Officially a meagre 28 per cent of the State’s agricultural land is stated to be under irrigation and the actual coverage could be much less with many irrigation schemes remaining defunct.

Reasoning that the Agriculture Department alone would not be able to mitigate the water woes, Brahma said that the department was keen to bring more areas under water supply by utilizing the available sources of surface water in coordination with the Irrigation Department.

“Assam has a large network of water bodies including rivers, rivulets, lakes, etc., and rather than depending on a depleting ground water level, we should go for utilizing the available surface water,” she said.

Another new initiative of the department is the Rs 2-crore soil health mapping project undertaken by the National Bureau of Soil Survey covering 13 districts. “Once we know the nutrient status of different croplands, we can opt for crops which are best suited for a particular area,” she said, adding that soil-testing kits had also been distributed among the farmers.

Revealing that 19 cold storages had been set up with a total capacity of 80,000 MT, Brahma said that 50 per cent transport subsidy was also being provided to farmers in interior areas. She claimed that there had been no distress sale of vegetables this year.

For the first time, the minister said, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has procured 4,100 MT rice from the State, which it would be supplying to BPL families under government schemes. “This marks a new beginning, as the FCI had earlier been reluctant to procure our rice due to its high moisture content,” she added.