Organic farming, exports can boost agri economy of Northeast: Official

Pankhi Sarma

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Guwahati: Initiatives such as organic farming programs, commodity promotion schemes, and export facilitation through the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) and the Ministry of Commerce, along with the promotion of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), have fueled the agri economy of Northeast India, Bhanu Pratap Singh, director of North East Farm Sales Promotion Private Limited, said.

In an interview with Business North East's Pankhi Sharma, he shed light on the transformative journey of the region's agriculture, focusing on exclusive products like 'kaji nemu' and government interventions such as the new industrial policy's Zone A and B framework. 

Singh, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode, is driving change in the Northeast's agriculture scenario. His expertise in export promotion, value chain development, and startup facilitation has had a notable impact, including facilitating the first air export of perishables from Guwahati. His contributions also extend to supporting livelihood projects and initiatives like the PM Van Dhan Yojana across multiple states. Below are the excerpts:

Business North East (BNE): According to you, how is the agricultural scenario in the Northeast?

Bhanu Pratap Singh: The current agricultural situation holds great promise in northeast India. Over the past decade, significant progress has been made in agricultural systems, thanks to commendable schemes initiated by the government of India in collaboration with state governments. Initiatives such as organic farming programs, commodity promotion schemes, and export facilitation through APEDA and the Ministry of Commerce, along with the promotion of Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), have fueled this growth. Every state in the region is experiencing notable advancements in agriculture, fostering a sense of unity. There's a concerted effort to elevate the entire region, with goals of positioning Assam among the top five developed states in the nation and highlighting the Northeast as a luxury destination. With agriculture as our cornerstone and ongoing initiatives, I am confident that the Northeast will soon emerge as one of the top three developed regions in the country.

BNE: Which agricultural product should the government prioritize to boost the economy?

Singh: Emphasizing unique regional products is essential. Geographical Indication (GI) items, known for their distinct qualities, warrant special focus. For instance, our kaji nemu (citrus lemon), recognized as Assam's national fruit, offers significant opportunities for revenue generation and youth empowerment. Diversifying its use into lemon powder, candy, squash, pickles, and more under a unified brand like kaji nemu can unlock substantial economic potential. Government efforts to promote kaji nemu are yielding positive outcomes, with promotional activities expanding to cities like Bangalore and Mumbai. The rising demand for such distinctive products underscores the importance of value addition in meeting market needs while nurturing entrepreneurship.

BNE: How are farmers leveraging government schemes? Are they receiving adequate support?

Singh: Farmers are reaping the rewards of  government support through various initiatives. Assam boasts numerous thriving Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), backed by the Department of Horticulture, making notable contributions. Led by our Chief Minister, there's a unified drive to champion local products, yielding positive results. Moreover, a concerted push towards organic farming is evident across all Northeastern states, with schemes like MOVCD (Mission on Organic Value Chain Development) guiding the transition. Government assistance, including subsidies and infrastructure development, plays a pivotal role in empowering FPOs, fostering their growth, and boosting agricultural productivity.

BNE: What are your thoughts on the new industrial policy and its impact on rural entrepreneurship?

Singh: The implementation of zones A and B within the new industrial policy represents a strategic maneuver aimed at dispersing industrial expansion and encouraging investment in rural regions. By providing more incentives in Zone B, the government is stimulating the diversification of industries beyond major cities, facilitating inclusive growth. This strategy ensures that industrial advancement is not solely concentrated in urban hubs but also reaches rural areas, fostering balanced economic development. Initiatives such as 'UNNATI' under this policy are poised to expedite advancement and usher in prosperity across the region.

BNE: How does agricultural export contribute to the region's economy, and what additional measures can be taken to further enhance it?

Singh: Agricultural exports are pivotal for bolstering economic expansion and creating fresh streams of revenue. They not only yield immediate financial benefits but also spur demand, prompting heightened production levels. Additionally, exports serve as potent marketing instruments, spotlighting regional products on the global stage and enticing tourism. Government backing, alongside measures such as organic certification and enhanced export procedures, streamlines trade activities. Yet, ongoing innovation and the pursuit of novel export markets are vital for prolonging and augmenting favorable economic outcomes.

BNE: Can you provide insights into the current export scenario in Assam and the Northeast?

Singh: Currently, Assam boasts around 125 exporters, alongside numerous Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs) and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) actively participating in exports. Government aid, including subsidies and incentives, has played a pivotal role in supporting their endeavors. Yet, there remains untapped potential, necessitating concerted efforts to empower exporters further and broaden their presence in global markets.

BNE: As an entrepreneur yourself, what challenges did you face during the establishment of your organization, and what advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Singh: Entrepreneurs, especially in agriculture, face hurdles in securing finance and human resources. Establishing infrastructure demands significant investment - a major obstacle. Despite these challenges, persistence and adaptation to available opportunities are crucial. Recognizing and leveraging government schemes supporting entrepreneurship is key, while sustainable growth requires dedication and compliance with regulations.

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Pankhi Sarma