Kochi: From natural rubber plantations to spice cultivation, the Northeastern states would see a variety of crops come up in the next five years, remarkably improving living conditions of the people.
Out to move away from Kerala, the epicenter of spice and rubber production, and look at newer areas, the commerce ministry has identified the Northeast as a major thrust area under the 11th Five-Year Plan, according to commerce minister, Jairam Ramesh. The heads of the two government promotion bodies, the Spices Board and the Rubber Board, have submitted projects worth more than Rs850 crore for the area.
A major move is to have rubber plantations along the 850km long border Tripura shares with Bangladesh, which Jairam Ramesh says will be a “social fence”. The government has identified nearly 7,500 hectares (ha) of land on the Indian side of the border at a cost of Rs150 crore. As a pilot project, 40km have already been covered. The project is being taken up by the Rubber Board, the Tripura government and the Border Security Force. This should give those in the area a major and legitimate source of income he adds.
The Rubber Board has drawn up a Rs528 crore plan to double the area under rubber cultivation in the Northeast to 60,000 ha in the next 10 years, according to board chairman Sajen Peter. In the first five years, the board hopes to cover 60% of the additional area.
Spicy business: A file photo of a spice market in Delhi. With the 11th five-year Plan, the Northeast is all set to become the new hub for spices.
Presently, Kerala accounts for more than 93% of the country’s nearly 850,000 tonnes rubber production. With space constraints in Kerala, the board was looking toward the Northeast and expected the area to have a share of at least 10% in the country’s natural rubber production while the schemes yield returns.
The Rubber Research Institute of the board had already developed new high-yielding varieties, like the RRI 114 and RRI 430, which could be planted in these areas. The popular variety RRI 105, which is now being widely used, has helped India top productivity at 1.8 tonnes per hectare when the world’s largest producer Thailand had a productivity of nearly 1.7 tonnes per hectare.
He says that rubber plantation in Tripura had been a success, while, in Assam, the board was working on a pilot project of having rubber grown in limited tracts in tea estates. If successful, the estates could go in for inter-cropping which would give them not only additional income, but also be a solace at times when the price of one of the crops declines. The Spices Board has prepared a Rs350 crore programme for the Northeast, up from Rs137 crore during the just ended 10th Plan. As per the schemes, an additional 1,500 ha would be brought under cardamom cultivation, while in the earlier plan it was 998 ha. Replanting would be undertaken in 3,200 ha and the board proposed rainwater harvesting at 850 places in the cardamom-growing areas. It would put up 700 modern cardamom curing and drying units, says board chairman, VJ Kurian.
There would be focus on organic farming, avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers, since there was a lot of virgin land that could be brought under cultivation. Around 500 ha would be brought under organic pepper cultivation and 3,010 ha each under turmeric and ginger. The board was also looking at introducing vanilla cultivation in the area. It was also making a study to improve the cultivation of saffron in Jammu and Kashmir. Export of six tonnes of saffron during the fiscal 2006-07 fetched a revenue of more than Rs2 crore.
The minister feels that once these programmes are implemented, there will be a regular source of income for the people in these areas and ancillary units can come up, providing employment to more people and thereby improving their living standards.