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Ri-Bhoi in Meghalaya is one of the most fertile hilly regions of the North-east. From strawberry to jackfruit, everything grows here. Water is abundant. Weather is moderate. Vegetations here are saved from the severe heat in the plains of Assam during summer as well as the sub-zero level chilly winter in the upper reach of Shillong Plateau. Yet, Ri-Bhoi district is rated as India’s one of the most backward regions. The region’s potentials vis-à-vis the reality has attracted a lot of investment including foreign funds via NGOs working in livelihood programmes. Being the gateway of the state to the rest of the country, the district is accessible to markets, without which economic activities do not hold any meaning.

The state government has put a lot of attention in exploiting the region’s potentials. This is the only comparatively peaceful region in the state with so much of potentials in agriculture, horticulture and other allied sectors. Opening of a ‘first-of-its-kind’ Fish Brood Bank at Umktieh in the district is one of the government initiatives to harness economic activities in the area. It is expected to stabilise the supply of fingerlings to the state sourcing the best quality seeds from all over the country. This facility has added to several new sustainable economic activities in the district including cultivation of organic tea and rubber. The region is also one of the largest producers of pineapples. Most of the pineapples found in the markets of Guwahati are sourced from Ri-Bhoi. Besides, betel nuts grow abundantly in the district. There have also been government initiatives to promote the traditional silk, Ryndia, which is again unique to Ri-Bhoi.

Chief minister Mukul Sangma, who opened the Fish Brood Bank, significantly said there is a need to change the perception that living in rural areas is not attractive and that it can happen only with the right kind of investment. He perhaps hinted to the fact that most people still think that employment means a permanent job in the government. Although a huge section of Indians have opened themselves to private sectors and discarded government jobs, the trend far from catching up in the backward North-east, which is plagued by militancy and conflicts over identity, race and religion. Initiatives like the Fish Brood Bank can come a long way in resolving these issues in the long run. For this to happen, these initiatives must give economic benefits to the grassroots people.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on May 23, 2015)

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