The statistical figures concerning horticulture sector of Assam related to last decade ending 2010 gives a very promising picture as regards production and productivity. The sector as a whole is limping towards a status of a surplus state if assessed on per capita requirement basis of fruits, spices and vegetable as recommended by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). It is obvious that the trend setter in this regard was the scheme of Horticulture Mission which was introduced in the state during 2001-02. There was promising growth in case of major components of horticulture to the tune of 27% in case of fruits, 31% in case of spices and 81% in case of vegetable in terms of total production. Likewise the productivity of horticultural crops also increased by 5%, 10% and 36% for fruits, spices and vegetable respectively. Behind these statistical reflections, a critical look back to the last four or five years of horticultural sector will reveal that by and large, this sector is gradually distancing itself from traditional outlook of subsistence nature and a commercial atmosphere has come into picture. The North East in general and Assam in particular has started exploring new horizons in horticulture sector with its wide range of components and it is one of the most vibrant sector now from farmers as well as entrepreneurs point of view. It is heartening to see new generation farmers and farm-women venturing into commercial cultivation of fruits, vegetables, spices and floricultural crops and their serious attempts to enter into the value addition part of it. But in spite of all these promising trends it has to be admitted that when potentiality of this sector in this parts of the country is considered, we have many more miles to go as experts have pointed out that it is a ‘sleeping giant’. Others also say that if India needs more millage in Horticulture, time has come to explore North East and other hilly regions of the country. This is a perspective view considering the importance of this sector as regards income generation at farmers’ level, employment generation in rural and urban area and scope of commercial take off through public and private participation.
Horticulture is considered as a sun-rise area due to its tremendous importance in attaining nutritional security, its maximum scope of bio-mass accumulation per unit area and time as compared to cereals, the scope that it provides as a second line of subsistence next to cereals and its ever increasing role in trade and commerce globally. This sector suits the temperament of new generation farmers and entrepreneurs due to its modern concepts, innovations and promising trends in trade. The avenues ahead of horticultural oriented people are vast and ever unveiling and many of them are yet to be explored. Such venues are bound to give very good end results if initiated scientifically with a market oriented outlook and some innovativeness. The unique sectors of horticulture are mostly comprised of fruits, vegetable, flowers, spices, medicinal and aromatic crops, mushroom, apiculture besides other micro-sectors like horticultural architecture and landscaping, outdoor and indoor horticulture, horti-tourism, medicinal parks, high-tech nurseries, off season production and marketing, horti-event management, country planning city parks institutional parks and gardens, wayside garden, rock garden, cactus garden, orchid garden, nutritional garden, water garden- hydroponics, soil less culture or aquaculture, green house management, protected cultivation, pasture management, lawn making, value addition including packaging, bio packaging, horticulture consultancy and input management etc. Many of these components give ample scope for employment and income generation individually or in groups and also as independent sector or associated sectors in various combinations giving complimentary benefit between them. The prospect of horti-tourism sector (in the line of tea tourism) in NE perhaps projects something unparallel in the world. Blessed with undulating topography of hills and hillocks, their natural flora and fauna, the tribal people of northeastern states in particular accommodates horticulture as a way of their life. Each state has a basketful of diverse products like pineapple, oranges, limes, banana other local fruits, spices like chilies, ginger, turmeric, tuber crops like colocassia, yam, elephant foot, attractive flowers, greens, foliages and ornamental trees and a long list of other unique products. Sourcing such products may be secondary while the primary issue may be to see these unique products where they are grown or available and there lies the chemistry of horti-tourism in North-East.
Urban horticulture has also become a focus area now. This is a more sophisticated area in terms of limitation of space but a highly demanding area as the consumer market needs local & fresh products for wide range of situation like malls, hotels, festivals and various esthetic activities. This situation provides excellent scope for forward and backward linkages. The semi-urban areas adjoining cities and towns can be most virgin zones of production of fresh fruits, vegetables, spices and flowers with direct tie-ups with city markets as per consumer demand. Individually a grower with a small plot of papaya or Assam lemon or leafy vegetables or drum-sticks etc. can fetch very good income and this income can be multiplied if growers societies are formed by which volume will be ensured which facilitates marketing through price negotiation. There is ample scope for setting up small apiary (bee keeping) units, mushroom production unit, mobile booths with fresh products including flowers, there is technology for off season production of high value crops like capsicum, tomato, leafy vegetables etc. under protected condition. The early or late market is always lucrative and this can be easily set-ups in cities, small towns and their adjoining areas and even as roof garden. One can venture into the business of providing most cost effective and hygienic readymade packaged or poly pack Tiffin boxes containing locally available seasonal fruits like Banana, Amlokhi, Orange, Pineapple, Guava etc. and other minor fruits of tremendous nutritive value to the students particularly amongst school children by tying ups with school authorities. Perhaps this will be a better scheme than the ongoing mid-day meals scheme in terms of calorific value, protein substitute and nutritional value. This will help growers indirectly to strengthen their production base as market will be assured. Similarly processing and value addition of fruits, vegetable and spices has tremendous scope in the competitive world by using bio-preservatives, bio-packaging and through organic certification.
Horticulture and more particularly the floriculture part of it, has a very important social aspect. It can help to develop creative atmosphere in every society and house hold. Colourful flowers and foliages surrounded by butterflies and bees, small garden, potted plants, orchid garden etc. can speak many things in many situations. They clearly project the seasonal transition in the cycle of summer, spring and winter which is ultimately reflected in literatures, songs, poems and paintings. Expectations from flowers are so high that an eminent poet said that flowers are divine products but the creator just forgot to put a soul in it. A well laid-out recreational garden or a city park irrespective of size and location not only gives a scenic beauty but also accommodates us somewhere away from din and bustle of concrete based life style. Creativity, imagination, feeling to be one with nature, courage to see and analyze the components of beauty in nature – perhaps originates from the perspective of greens and flowers – which is provided by aesthetic horticulture or by and amalgamation of horticulture and architecture. When it appeals, it terminates in creativity. This is vital for children and young, lucrative for poets, singers, writers and painters, business for entrepreneurs and a smile for those who are concerned with environment.
Pure horticulture i.e. cultivation of various horticultural crops – as seasonal, annuals and perennials have been categorized into two groups recently by the working group entrusted with horticulture to formulate policies for next five year plan under Planning Commission, Govt. of India. They are thrust crops and secondly future crops. This is a purely a commercial outlook. Thrust crops are those crops which are already prioritized as per market demand at present and regularly sought after by processing sector for production of diverse products, and are needed by the consumer world. Their demand is steadily increasing in spite of competition amongst producing states and countries. The second category is future crops. They are crops grown traditionally in unorganized way and not much popular at present but whose value and potentially is being unveiled in last few years and are still being studied to see the properties of their active ingredients, medicinal and nutritive value, prospect for pharmaceutical uses etc. With all probability, such crops will be in high demand in the days to come. Assam and North Eastern states have a very good range of such unique and rare crops and have comparative and competitive advantages. For example, Garcinia of different species (locally called Thekera), Citrus spices like Citrus macroptera, Citrus grandis, passion fruits, some local minor fruits, local chillies like Bhot Jalakia, birds eye chilies, many medicinal and aromatic crops etc. The horticultural diversity is the unique beauty and strength of this part of the country. Thus, plentiful avenues can be explored through proper cost-effective technologies, market oriented approach, consumer trend monitoring and some innovativeness.
~Mowsam Hazarika,Assistant Director of Agriculture, Dte of Agriculture, Govt of Assam;
Resides in: K R C Road, Kumarpara, Bharalumukh Sub P.O., Guwahati, Assam, India. PIN – 781009.
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