Hill agriculture is a specialized area for overall agriculture development. It has an enormous potential for development in horticulture, high-value agricultural products, beekeeping, livestock, fisheries, agro-based micro-enterprises, tourism, forestry and water resources management. Climate resilient value chain development with agribusiness can play a vital role in improving rural livelihoods of hilly people.
In order to ensure food and nutritional security, as per the directives of the Prime Minister, not even an inch of land should be left fallow, it is important to implement it in the hilly areas as well. The present agri-friendly government is urging to double the productivity of agriculture and harness the potential of hill agriculture to achieve the SDG’s goal by 2030.
The main challenge of hill agriculture is to make agriculture a profitable profession. Many factors are responsible for this, such as low crop productivity, lack of irrigation in the dry season, disease and insect attacks due to climate change, excessive rainfall and draught, low soil fertility, soil erosion, landslides, insufficient knowledge on post-harvest management of crops, lack of storage and value addition facilities of crops, dearth of fair prices due to low bargaining power of poor farmers, collection of various subscriptions on the same agro-product during transportation, lack of appropriate model for economic use of hill and reluctance of processing companies to invest in hills are the major challenges to sustainable development of hill agriculture.
Hill agriculture can be broadly classified into five viz. (i) upland agriculture-Jhum and horticulture based; (ii) valley or plough land agriculture (iii) Agro-forestry, (iv) animal husbandry and (v) fish farming in Jhiri or lake. Jhum or shifting cultivation is the major source of livelihood for most tribal communities in the remote places. Due to low yields of Jhum crops and lack of sufficient land for jhum cultivation, many tribal are now moving away from jhum farming and turning to mixed fruit orchards or other occupations.
The potential crops of Jhum includes local rice such as cockroah, gallon, sherray and some HYV rice like BRRI Dhan 28, BRRI Dhan 48, BRRI Dhan 55, sweet gourd, marfa (cucumber), chinal, arahar (pulse), bean, cucumber, yam, sesame, maize, chilli, millet, yard long bean, cotton, and marigold, etc. Livestock-based agro-forestry can be a potential farming system. Mixed fruit orchards are currently dominating as an alternative to shifting cultivation in the hills and its covered vast areas of upland agriculture. Research is needed to increase productivity of local popular varieties of rice and other Jhum crops.
Valley agriculture has a significant potentiality for growing high value crops constituting the area of 270612 hectares which is 3.2 percent of the total hill area. But there is only 19% of the land has irrigation facilities. The main cropping patterns here are Boro-Fallow-T. aman and Vegetable-T. aus-T. aman. Aus are mainly cultivated in Jhum farming. In valley, mainly cultivates Aman, Boro, cotton, sugarcane, maize and winter and summer vegetables. Most of the valley lands of the river basins have come under tobacco cultivation. Inter-cropping of sugarcane and maize with short duration vegetables can be a better alternative option to tobacco cultivation. But it requires marketing facilities to the farmers for getting fair prices of their produces.
In the case of hill agriculture model, in the nineties by stepping on the slopes of the hills, which is called the SALT method called Slopping Agricultural Land Technology for Hill. In this method, steps were made on the hill and saplings were planted step by step. In this way, it would have cost about 50-60 thousand BDT per acre to make a step on the hill. Even without technical and skilled people it could not be done. For this reason, the next time it did not advance or caught the eye. The Hill Agriculture Research Station, Ramgarh, Khagrachari developed MATH (Modern Agricultural Technology in Hill) as another model. Although the design and purpose of the model is excellent, it could not be expanded due to various reasons. After that the Hill Agriculture Research Station, Khagrachari developed another model called Multi-Strata Fruit Orchard. The model was successfully implemented in three hill districts from 1996 to 2005.
In the hilly areas, before the mango ripens a lot of green mangoes fall in the wind. Those green mangoes can be processed into green mango juice and a variety of pickles that can be sold to tourists and locally. Community based entrepreneurial class will be created if such work could be done properly. Processing companies have to come forward to do it on a commercial basis. BARI mango 3, BARI mango 4, BARI mango 8, BARI Banana 3, BARI Litchi 2, BARI Litchi 3, BARI malta-1, Pineapple, Papaya, Dragon fruit, Year round Jackfruit, BARI Guava, hybrid cotton, sugarcane and citrus are the most potential fruits in the hills. For remote areas, spices crop such as bay leaves, black pepper, cinnamon, common plum (Alu Bokhra) and cardamom should be encouraged for cultivation.
The agricultural research centers located in the three hill districts have a lot of technology. Strengthening research-extension linkages is essential to disseminate the developed technologies at the field level. Selection of suitable crop or crop varieties for profitability of Jhum cultivation, expansion of exotic fruits and high value crops, develop a suitable model for economic use of hill, popularization of mushroom and beekeeping, modernization of existing nurseries, enhance agro-forestry system on hill slopes and utilization of identified watersheds through projects and creates awareness of hilly people on nutrition is required for achieving SDG’s goals.
Setting up of genetic resource centers, setting up of collection centers and pack-houses, setting up of storage and value addition facilities is urgently needed. Export opportunities need to be created through branding of many potential local fruits. To utilize the mentioned possibilities, a multi-agency framework is needed, where the concerned stakeholders will have the opportunity to share their own views and experiences. For the overall development of hill agriculture, a three-tier management committee is required, such as Upazila label, District label and National label. With the joint efforts of all, it is possible to harness the potential of hill which can be lucrative commercial and export oriented agriculture.
The writer is an Agricultural Economist, Former National Consultant of FAO and Senior Scientist, Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI)