NEW DELHI, April 26 � In a rare compliment, the World Bank has said that improved irrigation system has helped the State in becoming self sufficient in rice, and poised for a new �Green Revolution�.
In a cover-page write up in its magazine �The World Bank in India�, it narrates the State�s success story. Local farmer�s success story dot Assam�s lush countryside, especially in the districts of Nagaon, Morigaon, Barpeta and Jorhat.
With the help of the Assam Agricultural Competitiveness Project (AACP), the farmers have unleashed a vibrant new energy in one of the country�s most economically lagging States, where average land holdings are smallest in India and some 80 per cent of the farmers are classified as small and marginal.
For decades, Assam�s remote location and years of insurgency stifled development. The result was that while the State has a wealth of fertile land, the use of high-yielding seeds and chemical fertilizers was low, resulting in yields of rice that were far below regions that were less well endowed.
While groundwater was abundant, with the capacity to support some 8 lakh tube wells, just one fifth of the land had assured irrigation.
The lack of timely water, together with low levels of farm mechanisation hampered the cultivation of crops during dry seasons. Although ponds and lakes abounded and demand for fish was high, fish production remained far below potential.
In 2005, with the support of the World Bank, the State Government introduced the AACP to help improve the profitability of agriculture, the State�s primary economic activity. Since irrigation is the most important factor for a sustainable increase in productivity, groups of three farmers were helped to install and share a shallow tube subsidised by the Project.
The Project beneficiaries doubled their paddy yields after being able to irrigate crops. An individual farmer who would have produced 2000 kg of paddy increased his yield to over 4100 kg and an additional 700 kg of vegetable.
Assam�s overall increase in paddy production of 3.50 lakh tonne has enabled the State to become self sufficient in rice for the first time in decades.
Farmers have begun to sell their high-value vegetables in local markets, with the more enterprising taking their produce to neighbouring States of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.
The World Bank story says that the programme really got going after the project team adopted the innovative practice of community procurement of pump sets. The community procurement method has ensured farmer satisfaction.
It is a testament to the strategy�s success that the Government of Assam has now adopted community procurement in all its projects and schemes in similar nature, the Project�s Procurement Engineer, M Rehman was quoted as having said.
The project�s fish intensification programme has led to change in view point of the farmers to regard it as a profitable venture. Under the project, fish hatcheries are being promoted to make fish seeds and fingerlings and reduce the genetic deterioration of fish stocks that tends to occur over time through the natural hybridisation of species.
The World Bank expert say that Assam�s unique �beels� hold vast potential for fish production, as they cover some 1 lakh hectares of the State�s land, mostly in upper and middle Assam compared to just 35,000 hectares covered by ponds. Over the years, however, these beels have become silted and choked with water hyacinth and stocks of fish have fallen after embankments on the river sealed off breeding routes.
The project�s fish intensification programme in ponds tanks and beels has resulted in a quantum 500 per cent jump in fish production.
The farmers in Assam are also earning more from dairy farming. New breeds of cattle have been introduced to replace the tiny local breed of cow. The project has provided the cooperative with bulk milk coolers that have built-in smokeless generators, to be independent of erratic power supply.
With refrigeration and better transportation, milk from the village would soon be able to travel 120 km to Guwahati.