Real Face of Rural Assam’s Economy and Development

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By: Parag Baruah

Out of Assam’s total workforce of around 1.71 crore, only 24-28% enjoy a social security, including work security and savings in the name of government and private employees. Unfortunately, the rest of workers survive in various dimensions under the informal category. As of the recent census, 9- 12% of total population (employees, non-employees) from Assam travel to other states for employment, education and medical purposes. In particular, the inter-state diaspora, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are the central areas for migrant workers, accounting for around 18% of the total labour force contribution of the Assam’s population. Due to sluggish economic conditions in the rural areas of Assam and inadequate employment for young people, most migrants are forced to migrate to big cities for jobs. The number of workers engaged in agro and agro-based industries in Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh was 9% in 2005. The same situation rose to 16.3% in 2018.

Until new economic opportunities arise in rural areas of Assam, it is impossible to control the migration of workers from such agrobased industries and asylum seekers in urban areas. In this context, there is no denying that the spread of COVID-19 infection can have a long-term impact on current consumption – costs. Organic farming is estimated to create 38-41% more jobs in rural areas of Assam, with higher earnings per unit of labour. In organic farming, smallholder farmers make better use of local resources, which helps their gain access to markets and thereby generate profits. In addition, organic farming is changing the location of food production in rural areas far from markets. Generally organic production yields are 23% lower compared to intensive production systems used in developed countries and states, but they can be 160% higher compared to low intensity production systems in arid and semi-arid regions. In areas with a humid climate, rice harvests are the same, while the productivity of the main perennial crops is reduced, although agro forestry provides the production of additional goods.

Production costs (seeds, rent, repairs, and wages for workers etc) in organic agriculture are significantly lower than in conventional type production, and vary from 50-60% for growing grain and legumes to 22-25% in dairy farming and 14-20% in the production of crop products. This is due to lower costs for synthetic materials, irrigation and labour costs, including the work of the farmer’s family and employees. The total costs, however, are only slightly less than for conventional agriculture, since fixed costs (associated, for example, with land, buildings, and machinery etc) increase due to new investments in the transition period (for example, new gardens, premises for animals etc) and certification.

Assam’s Rural Market opportunities

The demand for organic products creates new export opportunities. Organic export products are sold at impressive margins, often at prices up to 20-25% higher than those produced on farms that do not practice organic farming. Under appropriate conditions, market returns on organic farming can contribute to local food security by increasing family incomes. Entering this lucrative market is not easy. Assam’s Farmers need to hire organizations, those certify organic production to conduct annual inspections and confirm that their farms and enterprises comply with organic farming standards set by various trading partners. During the transition to organic agriculture, which lasts from two to three years, farmers cannot sell their products as “organic” and thereby include a premium in the price. This is because consumers are counting on the absence of residual amounts of synthetic substances in organic products. Agriculture is traditional, using primitive methods of cultivation and basic minimum inputs in Assam.

Additionally, the purpose of raising crops is home consumption or sustenance in the land. If a part of agricultural produce is sold in the market, the proceeds are spent on purchasing those goods from the market that cannot be produced at home. The productivity of land is low in Assam compared to the other state of India. Furthermore, too many workers work on the land and their marginal productivity is very little. As a result, the per capita income from agriculture in Assam is meagre which leads to poverty of the rural population of the state. In Assam, farmers often save very little to invest in agriculture. Supply of capital is scant and rates of interest are exorbitant. Indebtedness is widespread in most of the parts. Very few farmers Assam (Neelam Dutta, Ramen Kalita, Samir Bordoloi etc) are enterprising and muster enough courage to produce to the market inside and outside the state. In Assam’s scenario, one can approach various farming ways to grow their economic standard.

A farm with a high level of consumption of external resources

In Africa, Latin America and Asia, the majority of farms with an intensive production system, which are largely dependent on external resources, are larger farms. Such farms mainly grow several annual or perennial cash crops and are very dependent on the use of fertilizers that provide plants with nutrients. In such farms, crops are often grown without a crop rotation plan, and farm animals are not included in the nutrient cycle. As a rule, the level of diversification in these farms is low. Trees and shrubs are mainly removed to facilitate intensive mechanization, and mainly one crop is grown.

A farm with a low level of consumption of external resources

Farmers working with a small amount of external resources and using traditional methods can grow various crops in a system of mixed compact cultivation on one plot of land, changing crops irregularly. They can keep a few farm animals such as chickens, pigs, cattle and/or goats whose manure is scattered across their feed areas, resulting in very little manure entering gardens and vegetable gardens. Active felling of trees for burning them as firewood and coal may take place. Burning bushes and garbage can be common practice, especially during land preparation. Crops are probably small, and each time their obtaining becomes more difficult due to unreliability and insufficient rainfall. Yields can be enough only to provide the family with food and very little can remain on sale for income.

Mixed farming

In mixed farms, the growing crops can be combined with livestock farming, as a result of which manure is collected and are used in orchards and vegetable gardens after decaying for several weeks. Some soil conservation measures may be applied, such as mulching perennial crops and trenches to reduce erosion. In the production of fruits and vegetables, from time to time, herbicides, pesticides and treated seeds can be used to control weeds. Such farmers can easily learn new methods from other farmers or from an instructor and it will also be easy for them to apply organic practices in all areas of production in the farm.

Degraded land

Land can be degraded as a result of shift cultivation, cattle pasture, excessive cultivation of soil or deforestation, salinization after years of intensive irrigation with groundwater or water logging and flooding (near the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries). It may take more effort and patience to create good conditions for growing crops on such land. At the same time, organic production methods are an excellent approach to the restoration of such soils. Special methods may be required to stop soil degradation and restore its fertility. Such methods include: digging up terraces or intense sidereal steam using some beans crop that grows well on poor soils.

Traditionally, agriculture is the prime sector of rural economy and rural employment of Assam. The transition in composition of output and occupation from agriculture to more productive non-farm sectors is considered as important source of economic growth and transformation in rural and total economy. And, we believe that with the help of organic farming and agricultural development; our people will get a better life along with state economic growth.

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