Horticulture which could have played a big role in improving our rural economy remains a neglected sphere for the lack of required interventions by the State Government. No doubt some improvement has taken place in the horti sector in recent times as evidenced by the increase in the volume of the State’s horticultural produce, yet the full potential of this important sector is nowhere near realization. Not just Assam, the Northeast as a whole has the required geo-climatic conditions for triggering a horticultural boom but unresponsive government authorities have stood in the way of tapping this potential. Horticulture offers immense scope for our farmers to capture both national and international markets by adding values to their products and for this to happen, the State Government has to act as the facilitator. Food processing which is intrinsically linked to horticulture, too, has failed to gain ground for the same constraints. We only need to look at States like Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh and the neighbouring nation of Bhutan to see the role of horticulture and food processing in their economies. Such a horticultural boom has been possible in those States because of the active involvement of governments which are aggressively promoting horticultural entrepreneurship.
Bringing in technological interventions and quality planting material will be critical to triggering a horticultural boom. Constraints plaguing key sectors such as horticulture and food processing in which we have an inherent advantage should be addressed. Indeed, horticulture can open up new vistas for the farmers and arrest the sluggish growth of agriculture. Assam is endowed with the ideally diverse soil and climatic conditions for growing a variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental, medicinal and aromatic plants besides spices, mushroom and plantation crops. Sadly, the commercial prospects of horticulture remain largely ignored whereas it is an area replete with export potential. All this can change if our growers are provided access to the emerging trends and innovative expertise necessary for attaining excellence in the field. Another perennial drawback hindering the growth of our farming sector concerns the absence of market linkage and cold storage facilities. This dual constraint often compels our farmers to distress sale at throwaway prices benefiting the middle men. This means that even when there is good production, neither the farmer nor the consumer gets any benefit. All the tall talks of the State Government about fast-tracking agricultural growth will sound hollow as long as the farmers do not have access to storage facilities and market linkage. Expanding organic farming to horticultural crops can do a world of good to horticulture and food processing. This is particularly relevant to exporting organic horticultural products, including processed food, that have a huge demand in the international market. The Act East Policy, too, needs to be oriented towards facilitating a sustained growth of sectors such as agriculture and horticulture with an eye on capturing the lucrative markets abroad.