Agriculture in Assam is considered as the most valued enterprise playing a pivotal role state’s economy contributing about 19% to the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) during 2016-17 engaging about 70% of the population directly or indirectly. Assam Agricultural University (AAU), being the premier institution of North Eastern India has been targeting to produce globally competitive human resources along with pursuing agricultural researches in frontier areas and disseminating generated technologies to the deepest corners of the state to bring sustainability in farming and food security to the ever-growing populations. Emphasis on agricultural development in Assam was also put forwarded during pre-independence era through establishment of Upper Shillong Experimental Farm (now in Meghalaya) during 1897, however, real progress in terms of agricultural research in Assam was took place through Rice Experimental Stations at Karimganj and Titabar during 1913 and 1923, respectively. With subsequent establishment of research stations in each of the agro-ecological situations, now on, six Regional Agricultural Research Stations (RARS) viz., Titabor, Karimganj, Diphu, Gossaigaon, Shillongoni and North Lakhimpur were under operation till date to conduct research on important crops, more specifically, jute, pulses, oilseeds etc.along with five Commodity Research Stations (CRS) viz. Buralikson, Tinsukia, Kahikuchi, Byrnihat and Mandira were functioning under AAU. The University follows a well defined Research Management System to carryout need based, demand driven, situation specific and problem oriented research based on information collected by the scientists from the farmers’ fields and also on the basis of the feedback received from the line departments of the state government. Apart from several state funded research projects, more than three hundred externally funded competitive research projects have been successfully completed so far and 117 competitive agricultural research projects begged from different organizations and institutes like Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Department of Science and Technology (DST), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Board of Research in Nuclear Science (BRNS), etc. are in operation till date including 44 numbers of All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) / All India Network Projects (AINP) on different agricultural subject matter areas under Directorate of Research (Agri.), AAU, Jorhat. Recently, the University has been associated as one of the implementing agencies of Assam Agribusiness and Rural Transformation Project (APART) aiming to add value and improve resilience of selected agriculture value chains, focusing on smallholder farmers and agro-entrepreneurs in targeted districts of the State of Assam in collaboration with several state and international agencies and institutes like IRRI, CIP, World Vegetable Centre, World Fish Centre, etc. with the financial assistance from Govt. of Assam and World Bank. AAU has also been successfully implementing Schedule Tribe Community Project (earlier Tribal Sub-Plan) to improve livelihood of the tribal peoples of Assam. The AAU under the aegis of Oil India Limited (OIL) has been implementing a project on Augmentation of agriculture through efficient resource utilization with participatory approach since 2017 in addition to couple of projects on marketing and post harvest loss management of medicinal plants with the financial assistance from Ministry of AYUSH, Govt. of India. Recently, AAU has been implementing an collaborative research and developmental research programme in collaboration with Norway Government for the livelihood upliftment of small and marginal rice farmers of Assam. Through this strong research network across the state of Assam, a good number of modern agricultural technologies has been developed, recommended and included in package of practices for the farmers to uplift the agricultural crop production in Assam and rural livelihood in particular. Significant research achievements so far achieved in different fields of agriculture sciences has been discussed below.
Rice being the staple crop, much emphasis was given to meet up the technological gap in rice cultivation in Assam during last five decades and through extensive research on plant breeding and genetics, AAU could able to developed altogether 113 numbers of crop varieties along with 2 numbers of animal varieties and 1 number of poultry breed with desirable traits catering the needs of diverse farming communities and was well adopted in six agro-climatic situations of the state and several were in pipeline for their release or notification. Out of the total AAU bred crop varieties, 55 varieties belongs to rice, 7 green gram, 7 black gram, 2 lentil, 8 toria, 2 sesame, 8 sugarcane, 2 jute, 2 forage and 20 vegetables.
Amongst the AAU bred rice varieties, the most promising were the Sali or winter rice varieties like Ranjit and Bahadur and Ahu or autumn rice varieties like Lachit, Luit and Chilarai, which were not only extensively grown in Assam but also become popular in neighboring states. AAU has also developed Boro or summer rice varieties like Jaymoti, Bishnuprasad, Jyotiprasad, Dinanath, Swarnabh and Kanaklata, which replaced the traditional rice varieties to a great extent. Varieties like Joymati and Kanaklata are also well known for their cold tolerance ability. Moreover, several bao or deep water rice varieties like Padmapani, Padmanath and Panindra have also been released along with some other varieties viz. Jalashree, Jalkunwari and Plaban that are suitable for growing in flash flood situation and can withstand submergence up to 15 days. The submergence tolerance gene of rice called Sub-1 has also been identified and has been incorporated in some high yielding rice varieties that had led to development of varieties like Ranjit Sub-1and Swarna Sub-1, which were now becoming popular amongst the farming communities with a potential yield ranging from 6.5 to 7.0 t/ha. In addition, AAU has developed rice varieties like Gitesh and Prafulla, which were recommended for staggered planting up to 60 days. Recently, three new rice varieties viz. Dehangi, Rongkhang and Inglonkiri were been notified in Indian Gazette and recommended for growing in hill regions of Assam under direct seeding stress condition. A high yielding Bora or glutinous rice variety called Aghoni was also developed by the University along with an improved premium or scented rice variety called Ketekijoha, which got popularity in the export market of the nation. Another three high yielding varieties of rice namely Disang, Dikhow and Kolong has been recommended for growing under the pre and post flood situations, so as to combat the heavy loss to rice crop grown during Kharif season caused by recurrent flood every year. Amongst the 8 newly developed rice varieties two viz., Shraboni and Mulagabhoru are high yielding (4500-5000 kg/ha) and multiple resistant medium duration varieties and another 4 varieties viz., Chakra lahi, Diphalu, Dhansiri and Manah are high yielding long duration varieties suitable for growing in waterlogged situation. Moreover, Panchanan has been developed as a deepwater variety and Haccha has been recommended as a short duration variety suitable for growing both as direct seeded upland and transplanted crop during ahu season. Apart from AAU bred rice varieties like TTB-404 and Gitesh with high Zn of as high as 45 ppm, a few promising cultures with high Zn and Fe content in brown rice have also been identified.
Besides rice, achievements in terms of development of new crop varieties of national importance have been made, especially, development of two varieties of wheat namely DBW -14 and HUW- 468 with shorter crop duration that could able to escape pre-monsoon rain at the time of harvest. Moreover, six varieties of rapeseed has so far been developed amongst which TS-36, TS -38, TS-46 and TS-67 and gaining popularity in the entire North Eastern region. Rapeseed variety TS-67 could be sown upto 2nd week of December without any significant decrease in yield and hence could be best fitted in Rice-Toria cropping sequence. Recently released varieties namely Jeuti and TS 67 are suitable for delayed sowing in rice fallow. Recently AAU has developed 11 pulse varieties through its strong research mechanisms including 3 greengram, 6 blackgram and 2 are lentil varieties. The greengram variety SGC 16 was recommended for both summer and kharif season, while SGC 20 and Sonai were recommended for kharif season endowed with Cercospora Leaf Spot (CLS) and Yellow Mosaic Virus (YMV) resistance capacity. The blackgram varieties Beki and Kolong are recommended for late sown condition, while varieties like Sonkush, Manas, SBC 40 and SBC 47 are recommended for normal sowing. Besides, AAU has developed for the first time two lentil varieties viz., Axom Masur 1 and Axom Masur 2 and recommended for growing in Assam with an potential yield of 10.0 q/ha and duration of 115-120 days. Moreover, two local collections of pigeon pea genotypes - BAC 1 and BAC 2 have shown significant promise with an yield record of 2015.40 and 1985.30 kg/ha, respectively. AAU bred Sesame variety - AST-1 has been getting popularity amongst the farmers with a potential yield of 8-10 q/ha and 80-90 days to maturity.
Furthermore, transgenic chickpea lines resistant to pod borer, Helicoverpa armigera have been developed in collaboration with international agencies and steps towards evaluation and commercialization in India has been initiated through a private seed company ( M/s. Sungro Seeds, India) through a nonexclusive license and also to public organizations such as, ICRISAT IIPR, PAU, UAS, Dharwad through MTAs for further evaluation and introgression breeding. Additionally, research on development of transgenic bruchid resistant chickpea lines is also in progress. Research efforts are also on to develop transgenic Bt-Pigeon Pea and Bt-Blackgram lines.
Seeing the prospect of jute cultivation in special pockets of Assam, newly released varieties like Tarun and Apeswaree developed by AAU has been recognized nationally and recommended at national level for all the jute growing states of the country. AAU bred jute variety, Apeswaree is having yield potentials of 25.0 q/ha and is resistance to stem rot and root rot. In sugarcane, AAU could able to develop 8 sugarcane varieties and identified several clones with desired characteristics, which were deposited at SBI, Coimbatore. The most prominent ones were Nambor, Kapilipar and Doiyang. Recently, AAU bred variety CoBln-04174 was released and recommended for North Eastern Zone. Moreover, Sett preservation and quality jaggery making techniques have also been developed and recommended for the farmers of Assam. AAU bred lathyrus variety – Madhuri was also recently recommended for its cultivation in Assam. Another AAU bred forage ricebean variety - Shyamalima had been recommended by the State Seed Sub-committee for its rerelease in Assam.
In horticultural crop science, “low cost polyhouse” technology has been developed and perfected with packages for off-season vegetables and flower production. Moreover, packaging technologies for long distance transport of pineapple, orange and tomato have been developed to extend shelf-life of perishable vegetables, which is also applicable for commercial floriculture and transferred to private entrepreneurs and commercial firms for its larger use. An evaporative cooling cum storage structure for fruits and vegetables was developed by AAU showing wide acceptability by the farming community of the state. Three coconut varieties viz. Kamrupa, Assam Green Tall and Kahikuchi Hybrid-1, two ginger varieties viz. Nadia and Moran, four tuberose varieties viz. Shringer, Prajwal, Suhashini and Vaibhav, two gerbera varieties viz, Red Gem and Red Monarch and six banana types viz. Kanaibachi, Bhatratmuni, Hatidat, Therek Kanch, Garomaina and Honda, have been recommended for commercial cultivation in Assam through extensive research and development activities. AAU had also developed two HYVs of brinjal viz., JC-1, JC-2 of brinjal along with two ridge gourd varieties AAUJ-2 and AAUJ-3 for the farmers of Assam.
Two AAU bred varieties of amaranth viz., Jor Am1 (Shyamali) and Jor Am 2 (Rodali) were also recommended for Assam condition.
AAU has been always engaged in supply of quality planting material of horticultural crops and had able to establish a protocol for mass multiplication of tissue culture banana planting materials through setting up of a tissue culture planting material production unit. In Khasi mandarin, twelve elite genotypes were identified amongst which CRS-4 has been found to be promising. Moreover, AAU has developed a rejuvenation package for citrus decline disease in Khasi mandarin, which led boosted production orange in Assam.
In the area of Integrated Nutrient Management (INM), proper nutrient scheduling against major and important crops has been formulated and recommended in the form of package of practices. Researches on natural resource management at AAU had also led to identification of 3 indigenous microbial strains of Azospirillium (Az71), Azotobacter (Azo52) and PSB (5W) and handed over to several commercial firms for large scale production and supply of bio-fertilizers to meet the demand under organic agriculture. In the light of promoting organic agriculture, AAU has been constantly engaged in development and production of liquid bio-formulations like Org-Trichojal, Org-Vertijal, Org-Beauverijal and Metajal and solid bio-formulations like Biofor-PF and Biozin-PTB commonly known as Jaiva Kiran to control not only several dreaded diseases in vegetables including wilt disease of tomato, potato, brinjal, chilli, ginger, cabbage, cauliflower, etc. but also insect pests attacking several crops. The liquid bio-formulation technologies have already been handed over to M/s. Green Biotech Eco-solution Pvt. Ltd. for their commercialization and become popular amongst the agricultural farmers of Assam and North Eastern India. A talc-based formulation of a mutant isolate of Trichoderma viride has been developed for managing white rot disease of vegetables caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. A local strain of Beauveria bassiana was isolated from rice hispa, Dicladispa armigera and a low cost mass production technique in solid medium was developed. Through an extensive research at AAU, several bio-control agents like Trichogramma joaponicum and T. chilinis against rice pests and Neochetina eichhorniae and N. bruchi against water hyacinth weed have been recommended. AAU has also been constantly engaged in large scale mass production and timely supply of Trichogramma joaponicum and T. chilinis for successful for control of rice insect pests.
Precise schedules of cultural practices like time of sowing and methods of planting, optimum seed rate, plant population and planting geometry, irrigation schedules, weed management practices and nutrient management technologies like fertilizer doses, time and methods of application, integration of organics and inorganics etc. have been formulated for all the major field crops including forages and recommended. The recommendations are documented and publicized for the farming community as well as for the extension personnel in the form booklets - ‘Packages of Practices of Kharif Crops’ and ‘Packages of Practices of Rabi Crops’.
AAU in the field of community science had generated several techniques, of which, the most significant one is the cereal based weaning food called “Assam mix”, which has been found to practices by the resource poor farm households. AAU has already handed over the technology to many commercial firms to make it available to all the needy people of the region. Nitrification of traditional food item viz. “Bhurbhuria pitha and “Pat pitha” have been done and popularized. Technologies in terms of extraction and utilization of natural dyes from indigenous plants viz., Tepor tenga, Arjun goch, Bohot goch, Achu tree and Titaphul has also been developed to make the textile industry more ecofriendly. In terms of post harvest technology development, use of “Mat nursery” and a grain spreading tool – “Lakhimi” developed by AAU had enhance the efficiency of the farm women and reduced drudgery to a greater extent. A banana fibre extraction technique has been standardized, so that the fibres extracted from banana could be blended with other natural fibres and proper byproduct management could be achieved. Women-friendly farm-tool "Kuhuna" for drudgery reduction was developed and a tea plucking basket was improvised. Moreover, smoke free cooking burner called “Smokeless chullah” was also developed and validated for the resource poor farm families of Assam.
Due to constant and dedicated research, 11 integrated farming systems models through suitable integration of crop, fish, and livestock components have been developed in fishery science and recommended for the farmers of Assam. The Fishery Research Centre at AAU, Jorhat is supporting the farmers of Assam by providing quality cultivable fish seeds. A low cost fish feed named “Sushama” has been developed and in use to promote fish farming in Assam. Another notable achievement in this line is the technological development in seed production of Cat-Fish, “Magur” (Clarias batrachus) through induced breeding.
Although Assam Agricultural University has been constantly supporting agriculture sector though continuous and significant development of modern and effective technologies to minimize the technological impediment in increasing agricultural production, technological advancements in several keys is still to be addressed through effective research and development to minimize quite a big gap between yield potentials and actual yields of many crops in farmers’ field. Thus, AAU has prepared an action plan and selected several key areas of agriculture to promote more intensive in-depth research and developments with suitable integration of modern technologies to double the farmers’ income and to promote the livelihood of the farming community.