Tapping into the potential of Northeast India’s Organic Produce

Organically produced commodities are a unique feature of the Northeast that still haven’t reached their full potential. Addressing the gaps that prevent organic produce of the Northeast from leveraging the global market can present significant economic gains and employment generation for the region.

  • Northeast India remains predominantly an agrarian economy with extensive opportunity in the agriculture sector. The sector, in addition, has been quite untouched by the green revolution and heavily relies on little to no chemical inputs. Thus, the concept of ‘organic produce’ is not novel in the region.
  • Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority’s (APEDA) notes that only two North-Eastern States, viz, Assam and Meghalaya readily export organic commodities. Thus, despite having the proliferating conditions for the organic fruits, several agricultural practitioners in the region are still far away from entering the world market.
  • Evidence suggests that this inability to create a niche market for global consumers rests in Northeast India’s deficiencies in market capacities. These include lack in several other areas including infrastructure, certification bodies, procedural support, symmetric market information, marketing channels and brand building strategies.
  • The need is to address the lack of knowledge and awareness of the relevant stakeholders regarding procedures, market conditions and the benefits that can be extracted from the trade of such products.


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The economic landscape in the Northeastern region of the India has been gaining strong traction in the past few years. Several development initiatives have been initiated to improve production in niche products, better commerce and establishments to enhance connectivity of this region with the rest of the country.

The region remains predominantly an agrarian economy with extensive opportunities in the agriculture sector. In addition, the sector has been quite untouched by the green revolution. The farmers in the region still use little to no chemical inputs and rely heavily on traditional farming techniques; minimising the dependence on pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers and adopting further safeguards the quality of the natural resources and the environment.  Thus, the concept of ‘organic produce’ is not novel in the region.

Farmers and agricultural labourers here have always been more inclined towards organic farming. In addition to this, the region possesses a natural advantage, which can be turned into an economic growth driver. The region  possesses a distinct agro-climatic zone occupying a total geographical area of 18,374 million hectares, which is 5.6% of the entire country.

Despite such geographical and historical advantages, the production and export outputs are suboptimal. Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority’s (APEDA)[2] notes that only two North-Eastern States, viz, Assam and Meghalaya readily export organic commodities. Thus, despite having the necessary conditions for the organic produce, several agricultural practitioners in the region are still far away from entering the world market.

During the past few years, global trade indicators for organic food have demonstrated extensive growth. This indicates a greater demand across economies for organic products, thereby underlining a significant export potential. Despite such potential, India’s share in the export market of organic commodities is as little as 0.5%. The Northeast region has seemingly significant scope to meet this demand.

Evidence suggests that the failure of the region to launch a niche market for global consumers rests in its deficiencies in market capacities. These include several areas like infrastructure, certification bodies, procedural support, symmetric market information, marketing channels and brand building strategies.

Under recent initiatives of the ‘Act East’ policy of the government, infrastructural, logistical and connectivity challenges are being continually addressed through various focussed and targeted plans. For instance, the Mission Organic Value Chain Development of Northeast region (2017) aimed at linking farmers of the region to potential customers, in addition to providing support in accessing organic inputs, could contribute extensively in mitigating several of such infrastructural gaps.

Moreover, the recent developments in to build an enhanced and connected transport network such as the Trans Asian Railway network which can prove to be a gateway to the ASEAN countries. This is further beneficial as the vibrant ASEAN economy has domestic provisions to recognise and accept India’s voluntary certifications under the Participatory Guarantee System of India (PGS-India scheme[3]).

In addition to these interventions, the One District One Product Scheme can be fully utilised to boost the economic performance of the region via encouraging individual districts to establish potential markets in niche and specific products. This can contribute to providing institutional support for better logistics, storage, connectivity and networking with foreign buyers the region requires.

However, the methodological advantage along with focused policy interventions have not proven extremely fruitful. Singh et al (2021) note that organic commodities produced in the region are still largely uncertified and sold in unorganised markets at low prices. It was further observed that various states in the region have varying standards and norms. This makes the process extremely complicated.

The need is to address lack of knowledge and awareness of relevant stakeholders regarding procedures, market conditions and the benefits that can be extracted from the trade of such products. The prime focus of the Central and State Governments, in this regard, should be to work together to establish integrated organic farming systems in the region with the provisions of third-party certifications and marketing channels. Given the higher transaction costs of these mandatory certifications, awareness regarding organic produce among potential corporate sponsors and advisory boards is required. Evidently, urgent intervention is required in this regard. Along similar lines, enlightening the producers of the region to the profit levels that can be achieved in the world market of such products remains crucial.

Focussed efforts are required to be laid on generating awareness on increasing potential of organic produce and in establishing effective mechanisms to provide the required technical know-how of farming, providing necessary infrastructural support, market linkages and access to certification systems. Additionally, organising virtual and on-ground trade fairs involving participation from sector experts, certification bodies, technical and procedural support agencies, foreign and domestic organic companies and representatives from relevant CSOs and educational institutes will be necessary.

It is pertinent to note that organically produced commodities are a unique feature of the Northeast that still haven’t reached their full potential. Organic mechanisms of farming heavily rely on the natural and human resources with little dependence on financial inputs. This opens up possibilities for employment in the region and contributes to a sustainable resource base, while conserving the environment.


References

Singh, Raghavendra & Babu, Subhash & Avasthe, Ravikant & Das, Anup & Praharaj, C. & Layek, Jayanta & Kumar, Amit & Rathore, S. & Mrunalini, Kancheti & Kumar, Sanjeev & Yadav, S & Pashte, Vrushali. (2021). Organic farming in North-East India: Status and strategies. Indian Journal of Agronomy.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/ne-can-be-organic-food-hub/articleshow/15290144.cms

Mukherjee, Arpita. (2017). Organic food from North-East States The Untapped Potential. Daily Pioneer. https://www.dailypioneer.com/2017/sunday-edition/organic-food-from-north-east-states–the-untapped-potential.html

Das, Mohan. (2012). NE can be organic food hub. Times of India. https://energy.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/renewable/northeast-has-potential-to-become-hub-of-organic-products-renewable-energy-assam-governor/88432687

Deb, Rouhin. (2020). One District One Product: A potential gamechanger for Northeast economies. India Matters. ORF. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/one-district-product-potential-gamechanger-northeast-economies/

[1] State Wise Export during 2020-21, Consolidated Organic Agricultural Statistics For The Year 2020-21, APEDA https://apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/organic/data.htm#Summary_Statistics_2021

[2] State Wise Export during 2020-21, Consolidated Organic Agricultural Statistics For The Year 2020-21, APEDA https://apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/organic/data.htm#Summary_Statistics_2021

[3] PGS-India (Participatory Guarantee System of India) is a quality assurance initiative that is locally relevant, emphasize the participation of stakeholders, including producers and consumers and operate outside the frame of third-party certification. (https://pgsindia-ncof.gov.in/pgs_india.aspx)

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