AGARTALA: The mountainous northeastern region, which comprises eight states, occupies eight percent of India's land area and is home to four percent of the population, can set off India's second Green Revolution, a top Indian scientist said.
"Powered by adequate resources, skilled manpower, good climate and sufficient water, the northeast region is expected to be a food sufficient area in the near future and India's second Green Revolution is expected to set off from this region," Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) director and renowned agricultural scientist S.V. Ngachan told IANS in an interview here.
"Besides huge natural, agricultural and mineral resources, there is devoted manpower in the northeastern region. The pollution-free region has all ingredients to make it self-sufficient in foodgrain," said Ngachan, who is the ICAR head for the northeastern region.
According to Ngachan, the demand-supply gap of foodgrains in the northeastern region had narrowed from 23 percent in 2006-07 to 2.3 percent. He said that currently the net agricultural sown area in the northeast is 4.5 million hectares, excluding the small private gardens and orchards.
"The 'jhum' cultivation of the tribals is a major impediment in the northeast. We, in association with the state governments and political leaders, are trying to persuade the tribals to introduce the modified multi-cropping system instead of the unscientific jhum farming," the agricultural scientist said.
The jhum or slash-and-burn method is a shifting form of farming and usually involves cutting down of entire forests in the hills and allowing the slashed vegetation to dry on mountain slopes prior to burning. Rice is grown along with vegetables, maize, cotton and mustard, among other crops.
Tribals constitute 27 percent of northeast India's 45.58 million people.
According to the latest satellite-based forest survey of India, the cover in the northeastern region has decreased by 628 sq km, mainly due to encroachment on forest land, biotic pressure, rotational felling in tea gardens and shifting cultivation.
Launched in 2010, Mizoram's Rs.2,873-crore flagship farming scheme - New Land Use Policy (NLUP) - aims to benefit over 125,000 tribal families, mostly Jhumias, to solve food scarcity by moving away from jhum cultivation to stable and sustainable farming.
"The NLUP is a unique programme and the Manipur and other state governments in the northeast are trying to introduce similar schemes to take the tribals from jhum cultivation to normal agriculture with technology innovation.
"Integrated farming and improved jhuming are also the alternative to age-old Jhum farming," said Ngachan.
"Though global climate change has an effect in the northeast, strong political will, governments' active involvement, farmers' wholehearted participation and use of latest technology in farming, could make the northeast a foodgrain surplus region in the country," he added.
"As the region is a bio-diversity hotspot, rising food production and productivity make the effort much easier. However, the animal fodder crisis is a very big concern in the region, despite it being rich in animal resources."
The ICAR director said that the northeastern region, comprising Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura, accounts for 7.8 percent of the total area under rice cultivation in India while its share in rice production is only 5.9 percent. The average rice productivity of 1.4 tonne per hectare is below the national average of 1.9 tonnes per hectare.
The northeastern states are largely dependent on Punjab, Haryana and other larger states for foodgrain and essential vegetables.
Stressing on the need to increase the area under stable irrigation, the scientist said that only 20 percent of the total crop are in the northeastern region is now under irrigation against the national average of 45 percent.
"As vast areas of Assam and land in remaining states are flood prone, crop losses are an annual phenomenon in the region," he pointed out.
Ngachan was here to lead a two-day national seminar here on "sustainable hill agriculture in changing climate".
Over 200 agricultural scientists from 11 hill states including Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and all eight northeastern states took part in the seminar that also discussed how to deal with the climate change effect and improved farming modules.
He said that the ICAR has launched the KIRAN (Knowledge Innovation Repository of Agriculture in the Northeast) platform in July 2012 to harness the power of scientific knowledge and technology innovation for strengthening agricultural production systems in the northeast region through dynamic partnership and convergence among the diverse stake holders.
"Achieving sustainable food production to feed the increasing population of the fragile land of the region is an enormous challenge. ICAR envisages a unit for agriculture, to ensure an effective and efficient use of knowledge and technology products, promoting innovative approaches and solutions aimed at improving human resource with right knowledge skills in the northeastern region," he added.