III. Main Problems of Agricultural Development in Assam:
Agricultural development problems and economic development problems go hand-in-hand in Assam. Thus, while most of the development problems discussed below are agriculture-related, some of these are also related to the economic development problems in Assam. In addition to some of the major problems already discussed in Section I above (thus will not be repeated here), such as land fragmentation, lack of modern technology, or continued reliance on rain for irrigation, there are several other problems that hinder the development of agricultural sector in Assam. Identification of such problems should facilitate finding their remedial measures.
(1) Natural calamities:
Floods and dry spells are the principal natural disasters faced by farmers in Assam every year. The principal source of floods is the Brahmaputra river and its tributaries. Although it has been decades since the proposal to dredge the Brahmaputra came out, its progress and impacts are unknown. The loss of crop, livestock, house, cultivable land, and human lives are common during the yearly flood, which also takes a toll on the human spirit. It is estimated that such yearly losses amount to millions of rupees. Although current estimates of losses from these annual floods are not available, it cost over Rs. 400 million in 1978 (Dh?r, 1994), which was almost 2.4 percent of the state income (SDP) during the same period. At that rate, such losses for the 1990-91 floods would be a conservative Rs. 2.04 billion (Assam's SDP in 1990-91 was Rs. 8492.3 crores or Rs. 84.92 billion). The question, then, is whether dredging in selected areas is beneficial, i.e., is the cost of dredging per year is lower than the estimated yearly losses from the flood? If the answer is yes, then it is time to put the dredging plan into action.
(2) Capital deficiency:
Commercial capital, i.e., loans from banks or other credit agencies, is not generally accessible to farmers in Assam. As a result, borrowing from unscrupulous lenders, who are not regulated by the state, at an extremely high-interest rate is common in the state. Tragically, In many instances, some borrowers lose their livelihood, i.e., their cultivable land, to these unscrupulous lenders. Although the amount of commercial loan for agricultural purposes was over Rs. 77 billion in 1990-91, most of these loans went to tea gardens. In 1989-90, commercial banks spent only 40 percent of their agricultural-loan budget. Their main reasons for refusing agricultural loans was a lack of necessary collateral, mostly in the form of land. A lack of proper land inheritance documentation and a lack of adequate amount of land (due to land fragmentation) were two of the main reason for lack of collateral among many farmers in Assam. To fill the void left By commercial banks, the Integrated Rural Development Program (IRDP was designed to assist rural farming families with loans to expand and improve their agricultural production as well as to explore alternative avenues to increase income) used over Rs. 626 million in loans in 1990-91. However, the need for an agricultural loan remains largely unfulfilled in Assam.
(3) Marketing problems:
Agricultural markets in Assam are under-developed. Farmers sell to the nearest dealer/buyers, mostly immediately after harvesting when the price is at the lowest, instead of trying to find the best market for their products. Geographical isolation, weak transportation and communication systems, poor marketing facilities, poor or non-existent market intelligence (e.g., information on price and place to sell) are some of the principal marketing-related problems. While most of the brokers/buyers have access to modern communication facilities such as telephone and regular and timely market reports, farmers in Assam are many years away from having such facilities to gauge the market and sell accordingly. Regarding the role of government, earlier studies have shown that government efforts are more focused on collecting revenue (in the form of tax in the daily or weekly markets or through check-gates) than facilitating the marketing of agricultural Products in Assam (Bhuyan, 1990; Bhuyan et al., 1990; Bhuyan et al., 1988). A re-orientation of the government's focus from revenue collection to marketing facilitation will be necessary if farmers are to benefit.
(4) Research and development (R&D):
The Assam government started allocating funds specifically for research and development only since the sixth five-year plan (1980-85), with an amount equal to 0.06 percent of the total outlay of Rs. 11.2 billion. It is encouraging to note that such outlays were increased to 0.2 percent in the seventh plan, and to 0.5 percent in the eighth plan. However, it is not known how much of this R&D outlay is spent to improve agricultural productivity in the state, or how much of the total R&D output has reached farmers. An assessment of the impact of past and current R&D in the state would provide answers to such questions.
(5) Land reform:
Although the intent of land reform may have been to distribute land to all eligible landless citizens of the state, it resulted in increased land fragmentation, discouraged use of modern and efficient production technology, and increased bureaucracy and corruption. It is perhaps time to examine the real impact of land reform in last few decades regarding its effects on the growth and development of the agricultural sector in the state.
(6) Non-economic Factors:
Lack of education, ignorance about the changing economic conditions, out-dated thinking, prejudiced cultural values, disturbed law and order situation, and lack of scrupulous legislative and administrative machinery are some of the principal non-economic factors that hinder agricultural development in Assam. While the first four factors are mostly socio-cultural, which may take time to change for the better, the later two factors are mostly political. All these factors adversely affect agricultural as well as economic development of the state. Political and administrative instabilities not only create an unstable economic environment which scares away entrepreneurial skills, capital necessary for growth, and induces brain-drain, they also adversely affect socio-economic infrastructure, such as education, intellectual thinking, social and family structure. Obviously, the on-going political unrest in Assam since the late 1970s is not helping the agricultural sector or the economy of Assam.