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Development of Agriculture in Assam

 

 
 

In a Memorandum prepared by Rai Bahadur, K.L. Barua, B.L., the then Director of Agriculture, Assam in 1927 for submission to Royal Commission on Agriculture, a vivid picture of growth of Agriculture Department is found.

The Department saw considerable expansion in its first half century’s existence although it was combined either with Land Records or with Industries and Cooperation Departments except for the period from 1906 – 07 to 1911 – 12 when Assam was amalgamated with Eastern Bengal. In 1930, Industries and Cooperation Department were separated and Agriculture became an independent Department in November 1930. Mr. A.G. Birt joined as the first technically qualified Director of Agriculture, Assam on 01.04.1931. However, his predecessors being generalists were none the worse in their understanding of agricultural situation of the state as may be seen from increase in strength of officers and staff and establishment of research stations on major crops during the first 50 years.

Although establishment of research stations took place, education and training was yet to be started. In 1935 two Basic Agricultural Schools were established one at Jorhat and the other at Sylhat ( Now in Bangladesh) to provide training to the rural youth as per the recommendation of the Assam Unemployment Enquiry Committee. Some of those who passed out from these schools were absorbed in Agriculture Department to act Demonstrators. Another landmark is the establishment of a citrus Research Station in 1938 with the financial support of ICAR at Byrnihat (now in Meghaloya). Lot of good work was done from the station. Shri S. C. Bhattacharyya and Shri S. Dutta with their associate Shri K. Sarmah made an extensive survey of Citrus wealth of Assam with the Byrnihat Station as Centre of activity. “Classification of Citrus Fruits of Assam” by S.C. Bhattacharyyaa and Shri S. Dutta is a very important monograph published in 1956 which was part of work of this station.

One of the important events of the thirties in India was slump in prices of agricultural commodities throughout the country. To offset this effect, Govt. of India introduced a scheme called Agricultural Commodity Market Scheme in Assam in 1935 with the financial support of Indian Council of Agricultural Research. This scheme was wound up in 1947.

The forties witnessed great upheavals in India. Great political turmoil took place throughout the length and breadth of the country leading to Indian independence in 1947. Second World War also brought change and redefined departmental priorities. In order to maintain food stock during war, Govt. of India laid stress on food production through Grow More Food Scheme introduced in 1942-43. Normal woks of the Department changed.

In accordance with new priorities, many seed farms were started. In 1942 seed farms were stated at Salchapra in Cachar, at Dalgaon in Darrang and Senchoa in Nagaon district. In 1948 more seed farms were started at Golokganj in Goalpara, at Kathiatoli in Nagaon and at Kahikuchi in Kamrup district. Kakilamukh Farm in Sibsagar district, which was started in 1936, was also used as a training farm for students. Assam lost Habiganj farm at Sylhat due to partition of India. To make up this loss, a deep-water paddy research farm was started at Raha in 1948 in Nagaon district.

With the large-scale expansion of the Agriculture Department, requirement of educated and trained manpower was urgently felt to look after research, extension and administration. To Meet this requirement, the Department established education and training infrastructure. A Gramsevak training centre was started at Khanapara in Kamrup district and the Agricultural School was upgraded to Gram Sevak Training Centre at Jorhat in 1948. Another important landmark of the Department is the establishment of Assam Agricultural College on the 16th of August 1948 to produce agriculture graduates with Rev. B.M. Pugh as its first principal. This college was renamed as College of Agriculture after establishment of Assam Agricultural University in 1969. This college is the nucleus of agricultural education and research in the state.

With the independence of the country in 1947, there was great expansion of activities under Grow More Food Campaign as a result of attaching highest priority to agriculture by Government under First Five Year Plan from 1950. Grow More Food Campaign was initiated under a separate Minister, Late Omeo Kumar Das and Late Mr. S.L.Mehto, I.C.S., the Chief Secretary as Food Commissioner. The Agriculture Department contributed to increase in crop production through various schemes on minor irrigation, land reclamation, seed production and distribution, plant protection and farmers’ training. During this period pump sets were introduced for Boro Paddy cultivation.
Besides research on rice, sugarcane and fruits, the Department widened the research activities to other crops also. Research pn Pulses was started in 1946 at Shillongoni farm in Nagaon and Kakilamukh farm near Jorhat. Oilseeds research was started at Shillongoni farm in from 1951. All these research activities were transferred to the Assam Agricultural University in the year 1973. A Jute research farm was started at Sorbhog near Barpeta in 1957 by Indian Central Jute Committee, which was handed over to Agriculture Department in 1961. The activities of this research station were shifted to Shillongoni farm in 1965, which is now under the Assam Agricultural University.

The age of high yielding varieties of crops started in Assam with the introduction of dwarf paddy variety in 1963-64 and dwarf mexican wheat in 1968-69 by Agriculture Department. A special rice Development programme called Intensive Agricultural District Programme was launched in Cachar district in 1963 and continued till 1968. This programme was supported by Ford Foundation which contributed to a large measure in popularizing modern practices of rice cultivation among farmers in Assam.

With the dissemination of crop production technology among farmers, Government felt the necessity of creating input supply infrastructure to make easily available seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and implements to farmers. With this end in view, Agriculture Department started two Corporations, viz., the Assam Agro Industries Development Corporation Ltd. on the 27th of January 1967 and the Assam Seed Corporation Ltd. on the 1st of April, 1967.

Awareness about modern methods of cultivation spread among people towards the late sixties. Expectations about further modernization grew. As a result of this, the first Agricultural University was established on the 1st of April, 1969 with Dr. S.R. Barooah, former Director of Agriculture as the first Vice Chancellor. The University was started in the Assam Agricultural College at Jorhat. This has grown to a full-fledged modern University with the mandate of education, research and extension.
Eleven Agricultural Farming Corporations were established during 1973 and 1976 with landless farmers as shareholders. The Assam State Agricultural Marketing Board was formed on the 24th of September 1976. But the Assam Agricultural Produce Market Act. 1972 was enforced from June 1977.

Agricultural Extension service functioned under Community Development Blocks till 1977 in Assam. With the introduction of Training and Visit (T&V) system of extension in 1978 – 79 with World Bank assistance, agricultural extension came under single line of command of Agriculture Department.
Production of quality seeds within the state is an important step for increasing productivity of crops. The Assam State Seed Certification Agency (ASSCA) was constituted on the 1st of January 1985 for seed certification. The ASSCA is presently engaged in certification of seeds in Assam and Meghalaya.

A World Bank supported project, called Assam Rural Infrastructure and Agricultural Services Project (ARIASP) was started in 1995-96 for a project period of eight years with the Agriculture Department as a Nodal Department. It is a multi sector project involving Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary, Fishery, Irrigation, P.W.D. and the AAU. The broad objectives of this project were (a) poverty alleviation, (b) improvement of nutrition of the rural poor (c) growth of the farm sector (d) capacity building of state Govt. for project planning and implementation (e) community participation and (f) commitment to the liberalization process. The major contribution of this project towards the state is creation of micro irrigation through installation of Shallow Tube Wells (STWs). About 50,000 STWs have been installed. STWs have encouraged farmers to cultivate summer rice.

Another major STW programme was undertaken by Agriculture Department in 1999-2000 with loan from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). Under this programme, another 99,000 STWs have already been installed. STWs installed under both ARIASP and NABARD programme have created assured irrigation potential in about three lakh hectares. Irrigation potential created thus has enabled the state to be self sufficient in rice production. However, due to absence of MSP administration, low price of paddy has dampened the spirit of farmers. Therefore, the Agriculture Department has adopted the strategy of diversification of Agriculture.

The launching of “Technology Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture in the NE Region” in Assam in the year 2001-02 was a watershed in planned horticulture development in the state. This is a centrally sponsored scheme under the Union Ministry of Agriculture. There are four mini missions (MM), viz, MM-I MM-II, MM-III, and MM-IV to look after (a) research, (b) production (c) post harvest management and marketing and (d) processing, respectively.

Another important event of the year 2001 was registration of a society on 24.12.2001 under the name and style of Assam Small Farmers’ Agri-Business Consortium (ASFAC) in the line of central Small Farmer’s Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC). All the fund of the centrally sponsored scheme of “Technology Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture in the NE Region” is routed through SFAC to the state and then through ASFAC to different districts of Assam.

In order to enlist people’s participation in implementation of schemes, an innovative approach was adopted in Assam. The Department first took steps in the early sixties to organize among farmers Pathar Parichalana Samittee (PPS), English equivalent of which is Field Management Committee (FMC) under the initiative of the then Director of Agriculture, Assam, Dr. S.R. Barooah. After his retirement, the idea remained in eclipse till the nineties when the Department started again organization of FMCs. The FMC is a farmers’ body of 70-8- farmers cultivating a contiguous area of about 500 bighas, (60 to 70 Hectares). These are registered by District Agricultural Officers in districts. There are about 24000 FMCs in Assam today. The FMCs have amply demonstrated their utility by installing about 1,50,000 STWs in three years time. FMCs have been utilized now as a medium of extension.

Though there are quite large number of FMCs in Assam, level of performance of majority of these Committees leaves much to be desired. In order to make the weak FMCs efficient, capacity building training was started during 2001-02 taking consultancy of National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad and Assam Agricultural University with financial support of ARIASP. The capacity building training will be continued as routine activity. Formation of several Self Help Groups (SHG) in a FMC has been proposed now.

 
     
 

 
 
       
 

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