Agriculture is fast turning highly profitable in the Northeast, thanks to sustained efforts by the Narendra Modi government to boost farm produce from the region to other parts of the country and the world.
The region has experienced a massive 86 per cent increase (in value terms) of agricultural produce from $2.52 million (Rs 20.15 crore at current exchange rates) in 2016-17 to $17.2 million (Rs 137.53 crore) in 2021-22.
This export boost is the result of concerted efforts by the Union Ministry of Commerce through the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) over the past seven years.
According to Union Commerce Ministry officials, one of the first tasks assigned to the Ministry by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as soon as Modi took over in 2014 was to facilitate export of agricultural produce from the Northeast.
Anupriya Patel, the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry, said that APEDA was immediately asked to provide a platform to agriculturists of the Northeast to promote their products and act as an interface between producers, exporters and importers.
The APEDA, which functions under the Commerce Ministry, made the Northeast its focus area and initiated a number of measures from early 2015 to fulfil the task assigned to it by the PMO, said Patel.
APEDA Director Dr Tarun Bajaj said that comprehensive and quick studies undertaken by his organisation revealed that lack of market linkages and access was one of the main roadblocks in boosting agri exports from the landlocked Northeast.
“Providing easy market linkages thus became our top priority. The Northeast is blessed with a rich and varied agricultural product base, but returns from agriculture have been meagre because of lack of market access,” said Bajaj.
"We started by promoting the agri products of the region through very smart and 360 degree campaigns,” he added.
The APEDA organised field visits to the Northeast by importers from the Middle East, Europe, Australia and some other countries, including neighbours like China, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
“The importers gained first-hand knowledge of not only the agri products, but also qualitative cultivation practices, including organic and sustainable farming, by farmers of the region. That impressed the importers a lot and they became willing to pay a premium for agricultural produce from the Northeast,” said Bajaj.
At the same time, the APEDA also started organising capacity-building programmes on export awareness among producers and exporters.
“These programmes, which immensely benefited farmers and exporters, were aimed at educating the stake-holders in the safeguards and standards for agricultural produce that importers, especially in the West, insist on,” said APEDA deputy general manager Vinita Sudhanshu.
"Workshops were held on packaging and even designing campaigns to highlight the uniqueness of many agricultural products of the region,” added Vinita.
APEDA’s Northeast Regional Head Sunita Rai said that over the last three years, 136 capacity-building products were held in different parts of the region.
“We did not stop holding these programmes even during the pandemic. We also organised 22 international buyer-seller meets as well as many agricultural trade fairs in the region in the last three years,” said Rai.
APEDA Director Bajaj said that importers from Europe, US, Canada and Australia are very impressed with the sustainable practices followed by the farmers of the Northeast.
“Farming in the Northeast is largely organic and qualifies for fair trade certification. That will boost the value of farm produce from the region and get many more buyers,” said Bajaj.
The APEDA is now working on creating a platform to bring producers and exporters together.
“This platform will enable exporters to get in touch directly with producers and processors of the Northeast and will, thus, fetch good value for the producers and processors,” said APEDA regional head Sunita Rai.
All these efforts have resulted in a lot of fruits and vegetables from the Northeast being exported to not only other states of the country, but many parts of the world.
Pineapples from Mizoram and Tripura, lemons from Assam, kiwis, oranges and apples from Arunachal Pradesh, ginger and turmeric from Meghalaya, citrus fruits from Nagaland, organic and purple rice as well as vegetables from Manipur are among a host of products from all the states of the region that are being regularly exported to other parts of the world at very good prices.
Farm income is going up and agriculture is turning into a profitable business in the region. And many ancillary businesses are also coming up.
The APEDA has now turned its attention to value-addition for agricultural products from the Northeast.
“We need to set up food processing units in the region and that will boost the value of exports," said Anupriya Patel.
The Ministry (of Commerce) has asked financial institutions, agricultural research bodies, industry bodies and technical institutions to work on hand-holding entrepreneurs, providing knowhow, expertise, easy finance and market access to them to boost the food processing sector in the Northeast,” Patel added.
The Ministry’s goal is to make the Northeast a major hub for high-value agricultural produce meant for exports in the next five years.
A concrete plan for this is being prepared and its implementation will start from the end of this year.
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