Market-driven strategies coupled with enabling regulatory regime key to greater economic gains in agriculture sector in Eastern South Asia

“Market led growth strategies coupled with greater access to newer markets can be the game changer for agriculture in the region” said V B Pyarelal, Additional Chief Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Govt. Of Assam, at a Sub-Regional Policy Dialogue on ‘Fostering agricultural value chains in Eastern South Asia’. The meet was organised by CUTS International in partnership with Rashtriya Grameen Vikas Nidhi (RGVN, Guwahati), SNV (Bhutan) and Unnayan Shamannay (Dhaka) on 25th June at the Lily Hotel in Guwahati, Assam.

The event aimed to bring together government agencies, regulators, private institutions and private players engaged with agriculture sector, to understand and deliberate on how to best harness agriculture value chain and its potential in the sub-region comprising of the North Eastern states of India and its neighbours in the Brahmaputra basin.

Szarita Laitphlang, Vice Chairperson Meghalaya Resource and Employment Generation Council, Govt. Of Meghalaya shared that Meghalaya and the North Eastern states as a whole have some unique products to offer to the world including turmeric (with the highest curcumin (anti-cancer ingredient), ginger, other exotic fruits, etc. which have immense export potential across the world. However, it is lack of connectivity coupled with lack of entrepreneurial skills at the producer level that such potential has not been exploited to the extent possible. Taking on from where she left, Sudhir Chandra Nath, Programme Head, Seed & Agro enterprise, BRAC, Bangladesh, shared that that credit support, assured market linkages/procurement and skill development really helped to build sustainable value chains in Bangladesh.

Arindam Chaudhuri, APEDA, Assam, shared that APEDA has many schemes that can help build infrastructure towards facilitating a better supply chain and invited proposals from the Department of Agriculture, Assam to that end. Responding to that V.B. Pyarelal said that the department will be coordinating with his office to this end.

Bimal Kumar Dubey, Director Import, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) shared about the positive development of single window system that has now started functioning in all major ports of India, which will be operational in all ports in a phased manner. Under this system traders will need to fill up a single document for customs, food safety, quarantine, etc, at the ports. He also responded to issue flagged by PRAN group from Bangladesh and Bhutan participants regarding their concerns and requested them to share their concerns with FSSAI through CUTS. Reiterating the CUTS’s finding about regulatory requirements coming in the way of consumer gains, P.K. Ghosh, Assistant Director, Regional Plant Quarantine Office, Kolkata opined that to overcome such hurdles, it is imperative that traders know and understand market and regulatory requirements for specific markets that they wish to cater to. It is important to build stakeholder capacity to this end, he added. His point was seconded by Dipankar Biswas, Regional Officer, Animal Quarantine & Certification Service, Kolkata.

Asit Kumar Kundu, Assistant General Manager, PRAN-RFL Group, Bangladesh, shared that there are ample scope for further investment by PRAN in India, Bhutan and Nepal, along the lines of what they have already done in Tripura and recently, in West Bengal. He however said that more enabling regulatory regime and higher cooperation between standard organisations across borders is necessary to this end, coupled with better physical connectivity and changes in the domestic policies of Bangladesh to facilitate easy trans-boundary investment. Jahnabi Phookan, Director, Assam Bengal Navigations, flagged the importance of the larger connectivity, particularly the inland waterways routes to help in promoting better trade in the region.

Asadul Amin, Managing Director, Premium Seeds, Bangladesh, said that it is important that agriculture in the region undergoes a transformation from subsistence to market driven mode. Dorji Rinchen, Senior Advisor, Ministry of Agriculture and Forest, Royal Government of Bhutan, shared that Bhutan largely follows organic/natural methods of cultivation and such products have huge export potential. It is through entrepreneurial development that such potential could be tapped. Krishna Saikia, CEO, Greencover Overseas, shared that it is very important that primary processing is done at the farm level and enough capacity building of producers are done on that issue, coupled with stress on crop diversification, so that the food processing industry in the region can take off.
K. C. S. Kurup, General Manager, NERAMC, seconded Saikia’s point on primary processing at farm level and shared that value chains need to be developed keeping in mind the economic feasibility. S. K. Das, SFAC, Guwahati, shared that Farmer Producer Companies can prosper given that they are given handholding support for a longer period and professional managers are engaged to take ahead the business plans.
Amiya Sharma, Executive Director, RGVN, said that it is important that the larger deliberations on transboundary value chains are connected with the small and marginal farmers to include them and their in the discourse.

Prithviraj Nath, Head, CUTS Calcutta Resource Centre, concluded the event by sharing that CUTS will take on board the inputs and suggestions received from the day-long event and advocate with relevant state, national and international agencies to help create an enabling and sustained discourse towards promoting transboundary agricultural value chains in the Eastern South Asia sub-region.