Can corn cultivation revolutionize Tripura agriculture?

Agartala: Tripura farmers are now experimenting with new crops: earlier this year, we highlighted how local farmers had started producing fragrant basmati rice, which until recently, barely had any presence in the state. Now, four women from a small village, under the banner of a self-help group, have decided to take up farming corn. 

With the technical support of the Tripura Rural Livelihood Mission, the four farmers first grew industry-friendly varieties of corn and after witnessing success, they are now urging the agriculture department to contemplate large-scale crop cultivation.

The project started when one hectare of land in the Lefunga rural development block under the Mohanpur subdivision in West Tripura District turned into a research ground for agri-scientists to ascertain the role of corn cultivation in the state’s agrarian economy.

Speaking to EastMojo, Manager of Farmers Producers Organization (FPO) Lefunga RD block Ramzau Molsom said, “A total of one hectare of land has been used for growing corn to find out the best-suited crop variety for the agro-climatic conditions of Tripura. A couple of varieties have been planted here, and the results are satisfactory. We also sowed a variety of sweet corn to see whether these highly profitable varieties can survive in Tripura.”

He informed that Rs 2.77 lakh was spent on the land, and termed the results ‘encouraging’.

Dipali Debbarma, Anjana Debbarma, Sandhyarani Debbarma and Beltrami Debbarma were selected for the pilot project and are members of self-help groups (SHGs), Molsom added.

The project aims to reduce the state’s dependence on other states for corn-based products, mostly used as fodder for other agri-allied sectors such as piggery, fishery and dairy.

Chief Executive Officer of Tripura Rural Livelihood Mission, Dr Prasad Rao Vaddarapu, told EastMojo that plans were afoot to sow climate-resilient varieties of corn in 700 hectares of land across the state through women farmers affiliated with the Self Help Groups. 

“We have selected the plot of land very strategically. The plot is very close to a natural source of water. In the Kharif season, local farmers cultivate paddy on the same land, so it was also an experiment for crop diversification and optimum land utilisation,” Rao said.

According to Rao, farmers in Tripura generally do not opt for second cropping in the same land. After paddy cultivation in the Kharif season, farmers wait for the next season to repeat the cycle. However, the TRLM took the initiative to educate farmers about crop diversification.

“When we were looking for a suitable crop for the second phase of sowing, the idea of corn struck my mind. We then observed that a huge amount is spent to procure corn from different parts of the country such as Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. Over 50 per cent of the ingredient used for fodder production is corn so we decided to go ahead with it,” Rao told EastMojo.

Later, the TRLM consulted experts on the idea but received discouraging responses.

“Experts said industrial mode cultivation of corn is not possible here. It drove me to a state of self-analysis, and I kept searching for more information. After studying the materials available regarding corn cultivation, I realised that existing technology may not give good results, but if proper scientific knowledge is applied, the yield would be definitely good enough for the farmers,” he said.

Doing away with power tillers, they used a tractor to prepare the land for cultivation. He informed that high-yielding varieties produced by MNC companies were also introduced for sowing instead of local seeds.

To make a comparison of the produce between the use of new technology and the traditional system of agriculture in the state, a small plot of land beside the tractor-tilled land was ploughed using the power tiller.

“The difference in the growth and texture of the product is visible in the field. Within three and half months the difference is visible. The agriculture department has also extended subsidies to our farmers,” Rao said.

Game Changer:

According to Rao, corn cultivation can be the foundation to enhance the local economy. “Corn cultivation will promote four sectors altogether. The cattle rearers have approached our farmers in Lefunga to purchase the grass of the corn. We are anticipating that the farmers would earn Rs 40,000-Rs 50,000 thousand by selling the grass alone at a flat rate of Rs 2.5 per kg,” he said.

On the other hand, if the SHGs initiate a feed production unit, fodder for fish, pig and poultry fodder can also be exported to the local industries at a very substantial rate, he observed.

“The money that used to go out of the state for the purchase of corn products will now roll within the state and bring holistic domestic growth in the rural economy,” Rao, also an agriculture post-graduate, told EastMojo.

The way forward:

As per primary estimates, Tripura imports 4,000 metric tons of corn annually to use as fodder for agri-allied sectors such as piggery, fishery and dairy. This is equivalent to 200 truckloads, and TRLM is hopeful of catering to local demand.

“We have calculated that 700 hectares of land will be enough to produce that much corn which can be used for these activities. In the initial stage, we shall run this exclusively with the farmers affiliated with the SHG groups. If things fall in our line, the agriculture department is also going to support us in this initiative,” the official shared.

Solar Push:

Tripura Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Ratan Lal Nath recently paid a visit to the spot and interacted with local farmers.


Speaking to EastMojo, Nath said, “This is very impressive. The farmers have scripted a new success story here that needs to be encouraged. I have been told that some water-related problems exist, which have affected the crops’ growth to an extent. Tripura Renewable Energy Development Agency officials have been directed to install solar water pumps in the areas to ensure uninterrupted water supply to the croplands in every season.”

According to Nath, the agriculture department is actively working to help farmers look for suitable crops that can fetch better profits compared to paddy. “Rice is our staple food, so growing paddy is mandatory. But as a subsidiary, the farmers must do some other crops to generate better returns. After interacting with the farmers, I learnt that corn is a good subsidiary for paddy in crop diversification format,” Nath said.

Executive Member of TTAADC Runeil Debbarma also visited the area.

Kiran Bhowmik, an agriculture economics scholar at Tripura University appreciated the steps taken to promote corn production. He, however, feels that more initiatives are needed to ensure corn production does not remain just a showpiece.

He said, “This production should not be confined to demonstration purposes alone. The biggest impediment for our farmers is that we don’t have enough processing units for manufacturing livestock fodder.”

The scholar suggested cluster-level initiatives to set up such units at the village level for better market linkages of the crop. As most farmers do not have the machines used for harvesting, he also suggested the state government must train and equip farmers with the necessary tools.

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Bhowmik also emphasised the “opportunity cost” factor pertaining to corn cultivation. 

“If the profit is guaranteed, he will certainly go for that. The situation is that paddy growers cultivate paddy and keep a share for their own use, and the excess is sold out in the market. Now if they switch to corn, they have to buy rice from the markets. And most importantly, what schemes the government rolls out for marginal farmers for giving corn popularity also needs to be studied carefully,” Bhowmik told EastMojo.  

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