The northeastern region, which comprises eight hilly states, occupies eight percent of India’s land area and is home to four percent of the country’s population, is predicted to achieve food sufficiency in five to six years, a top agricultural scientist has said.

"Powered by good climate, sufficient water and devoted manpower, the northeast region is expected to be a food sufficient area in five-six years," Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) director general and renowned agricultural scientist S. Ayyappan told IANS in an interview here. 

"With the collective efforts of the ICAR and states’ agricultural experts, we could improve food production and productivity in all the northeastern states. The deficiency of foodgrains has reduced from 8.33 percent per triennium (three years) in 2012 to 2.51 percent per triennium in 2014."

"In the last 10 years, rice production has increased by 26.11 percent from 5.4 million tonnes to 6.8 million tonnes, but the wide demand-production gap that still exists in the dairy, fisheries and poultry sectors is a mattern of concern," said Ayyappan, who is also the secretary of the Department of Agricultural Research and Education.

Ayyappan, along with a host of top agricultural and allied sectors’ scientists from across the country, was here for ICAR’s 22nd regional council meeting.

Experts, research scholars, vice-chancellors of many agricultural universities, specialists in farming, horticulture, fisheries, animal resources, and educational institutions from across the country took part in the two-day session.

Ministers and top officials of the eight northeastern states also attended the event.

The ICAR chief said : "The northeast region can be a food surplus region by 2020-21 as the bad effect of climate change had not much impact here. Good rainfall, favourable soil conditions, a tropical situation and huge scope of organic farming could advance the food sufficiency effort."

"As the region is a bio-diversity hot spot, rising food production and productivity made the effort much easier. However, the crisis of animal fodder is a very big concern in the region despite it being rich in animal resources."

The agricultural scientist stressed the urgent need to stop ‘Jhum’ (slash and burn method of farming in the hill tops) cultivation by providing settled and alternative farming methods and increasing the skills of young farmers toward this.

Tribals in the northeastern states practise ‘Jhum’ cultivation. This shifting form of farming usually involves cutting down of entire forests in the hills and allowing the slashed vegetation to dry on the mountain slopes prior to burning. Rice is grown along with vegetables, maize, cotton and mustard, among others.

Tribals constitute 27 percent of northeast India’s 45.58 million people.

The ICAR chief said that the northeastern region, comprising Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura and Sikkim 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 foodgrains and essential vegetables.

Accepting the fact that there is a growing trend of people moving away agriculture sector, the scientist said that ICAR has been introducing new methods of agriculture with more profit.

Ayyappan said that the ICAR has launched the KIRAN (Knowledge Innovation Repository of Agriculture in the Northeast) platform in 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 northeast region," he added.