History of Agriculture in these Islands

 Before the Fertile Crescent, everything was dark. Only with agriculture did humans really become humans. We lifted ourselves out of the savage life of foraging: living in caves, searching for food from dawn until dusk, chasing beasts or being chased by them, always hungry and worried where we would find our next meal. Man’s daily bread is always, in one form or another and thus the importance was given to agriculture from the time immemorial.

In1779 when a small colony was established at Chatham Island, the conventional agriculture in a small area was taken up to support the population to meet the demands of vegetables and also a few tropical fruits etc. However, this project was subsequently abandoned due to aboriginal menace and diseases. According to the report stated by Turner, C.H, 1897, Supdt. of Burma and the interesting saga from the book ‘The Andaman Islands’ by F.A.M. Dass it is indicated that at the end of the year 1894-95 there were 10,140 acres of land under cultivation in the settlement of which 4,425 acres represent the Govt. plantation of tea, coffee, musa textilis, cocoa, coconuts, vegetables and the remaining 5,715 acres were held by free and convict cultivators. The amount of cleared land at Port Blair at the end of 1894-95 was 22,306 acres and this amount steadily increased.

It is interesting to note that there were 585 acres of tea in bearing at the end of the year 1894-95 and the out turn amounted to 121,641 lbs. of manufacture tea. These gardens supplied the Burma Commissariat Dept. with 52,550 lbs. of tea at the contract price of 7annas of pound (1 anna = 6 paisa). The contract was also secured for the year 1895-96 and 1896-97 at a slightly lower rate. Tea appears to do fairly well in the Andamans, but the rainfall was insufficient, the tea bushes suffered very much in the dry season during the months of Feb, March and April. A greater amount of tea could be manufactured if more labour was available, the gardens were entirely worked by convict labour, the available supply of which was insufficient to do justice to the gardens.

Even there were few areas of cocoa which appeared to do well, but at present very little is manufactured. There were several plantations of Cara rubber which do well in the Andamans. Manilla rope was manufactured from the fibre musa textilis plant, which was grown very well in certain parts of the island, but very little attention, was paid to this industry. The Coconut palm is not indigenous to the Andaman Islands which is curious considering how the palm flourishes in both the Cocos and Nicobars, where it is indigenous. It however, thrives very well in these Islands and there are plantations through out the settlement. A large amount of oil, oil cake, and coir was manufactured and sold to the commissariat Department or exported.

Among the agriculture crops the chief cereals sown by the self supported were paddy, Indian corn, Turmeric, Dhall (Urud), Sugarcane and a variety of vegetables. The low land was well suited for paddy, the amount sold to the commissariat in 1894 being 560,172 lbs. After the paddy was harvested and the fields have dried up they were ploughed and planted with dhall, thus two different crops were obtained from the same field. Kulthi Dal had been tried in various places, but this crop appears to be rather uncertain. European vegetables did not do well and there was no land at all suitable for the cultivation of potatoes. Common Indian vegetables, plantations and pineapple did well from that era.

The history of agriculture was carried a way forward, by Lord Mayo who thought seriously of making the penal settlement self-supporting by the expansion of agriculture. As all the islands were covered with impregnable forests and a characteristic which is the key-note of Andamanese life is that they are naturally collectors of food and not cultivators. They knew no form of cultivation and, when the English first occupied the place, no cultivable lands were available in the Andamans. After the settlement was established, the authorities, with the aid of the convicts and others, laboured hard to clear the jungles around Port Blair in order to grow vegetables, fruits and other crops.

The convicts were encouraged in numerous ways to settle down on the land. Many of the well behaved convicts were given permission on “tickets-of-leave” to hold land from 2 to 5 acres, and they were also given clothes and nine months’ rations, a taccavi loan or the supply of ploughs, cattle, and other implements necessary to carry on agricultural work. However, neither the cultivators nor their descendents had any rights of ownership over the land; they were tenants- at-will of the government. This system, of course, safe guarded the interests of the government but it was not very satisfactory to the cultivators. Therefore, many of them did not earnestly try to improve the land. Those who desired to possess the tickets-of-leave could obtain them only by their good behaviour and they were mostly motivated by their desire for freedom.

Further, since they came from all parts of India and Burma, it was impossible to expect them to be a homogeneous, body of cultivating tenants who were keenly interested in agriculture. But one thing is true: from the very beginning the authorities were very earnest in this particular matter, and through their efforts, a large area of more than 13,000 acres of land was brought under cultivation.

There are about 10,000 head of cattle in the whole of the Andamans. The native cow was found to be a very Poor specimen, therefore some stud bulls were carefully selected and imported from India by the Commissariat department and maintained in various parts of the Islands. The new breed obtained by crossing these local bred cows with Hilsa, Montagmary and Sindhi bulls are found to be superior to the original stock and more useful for draught purposes and are found to give larger quantities of milk. The commissariat department maintained a good dairy farm and supplied fresh milk, cream and butter every day to officers and hospitals at a moderate Cost. Breeding of sheep was difficult as the sheep brought over to this place in large flocks were unable to live in the islands under ordinary conditions. In order to provide mutton, sheep were imported in small batches from India and some of the self-supporting convicts and free settlers were engaged in sheep raising and make a fair profit for themselves by supplying them for slaughter. Poultry farming got on well in that time by many interesting settlers.

          Since 1921, fresh schemes have been introduced for the improvement of agriculture. Occupancy rights have been extended to several hundred tenants. A special department known as the Agricultural Department was established under an able Agricultural Officer. This department laid out elaborate schemes of agricultural advancement. It devotes much of its time to educating the agricultural class, by supplying of good seed and fertilizers for protection against vermin and fungoid pests, good tools and implements’ and healthy, live stock. Annual agricultural exhibitions, ploughing competitions have done much the improvement of cultivation.

         The Department of Agriculture was fully established in 1945 to develop agriculture in these Islands in a systematic and scientific line. After Independence, major stress was under area expansion in agriculture development, and land for agriculture expanded upto the end of 4th Five Year Plan (1969-74).

          As the time went by the benefits of improved methods of agriculture was brought home to the root in the settlement.

          For strengthening Agricultural Department an inter-departmental team in 1965 studied the potentialities of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and submitted a report which suggested the suitability of these Islands for integrated resources development particularly for rehabilitating displaced people from East Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma. The team recommended accelerated agricultural development by clearing more forests and settling people aiming to achieve self-sufficiency in food. Even prior to this (since the early 1950’s) under the colonization programme, settlements were established at Keralapuram in North Andaman, Betapur area in Middle Andaman etc. But in view of the inter Departmental team’s recommendation, ambitious reclamation of land through deforestation and settlement of refugees and ex-service man were taken up in Betapur vally (in Middle Andaman), Neil island in Ritchie’s Archipelago, Little Andaman and Great Nicobar. 334 agricultural families were rehabilitated in 1090 acres in Little Andaman and 4183.40 acres were cleared since 1964 in Great Nicobar to settle 2116 people. From 1969, the Rehabilitation Ministry took over the responsibility of refugees resettlements.

          In 1974 complaints regarding ecological destabilization of the areas due to massive deforestation were voiced and as a result of the Prime Minster’s intervention, a multi-disciplinary study team constituted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation visited the islands and submitted their report in May, 1975. The recommendations of the study team suggested certain measures including collection of land use and soil conservation data, setting up of a Task Force with representatives of the various involved scientific disciplines who would select areas suitable for rehabilitation taking into consideration the guidelines laid down by the Multidisciplinary team.

          An I.U.C.N. Expert Mc Vean visited these islands in 1976 on the invitation of the Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture. However, with the report of Dr. Mc Vean in 1976 on “Land use in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands”, which emphatically indicated these Islands as essentially forest terrains and not suitable for large scale agricultural settlement and agro-based enterprise, the thrust was diverted from area expansion to intensive agricultural practices in the existing area. As on date, agricultural activities are therefore confined to an area of about fifty thousand hectare. Dr. Mc Vean’s recommendation of stopping all forest clearance was not accepted by the Government and a follow up in 1976 December, a Secretaries’ team visited these islands. The high power team recommended preparation of base resource maps using Aerial Photo Interpretation, special attention being paid to the current position in Great Nicobar, Little Andaman, Car Nicobar, Kamorra, Katchal and Nancowrie. They also recommended setting up more wood based industries through the Forest and Plantation Development Corporation.

          On the basis of the Secretaries’ Committee’s recommendation, the pre-investment Resource Survey of Forest Survey Organization prepared photo-interpretation maps of most of the areas based on 1974 aerial photographs. The rehabilitation programs were permitted to continue. Boundary demarcation of Reserved Forests was also taken up and the Andaman and Nicobar Forest and Plantation Development Corporation which was assigned the role of state Industrial Development Corporation sponsored one ‘small scale’ match splint factory in Little Andaman and another in North Andaman. An integrated wood based complex in the joint sector was proposed to be set up in Little Andaman.

          But in spite of all the expert team’s and high level officials’ visits the basic points raised by the Prime Minister in her original communication dated March 1975 regarding the long-term viability of all these forest clearance and utilization have not been looked at impartially or analytically. The error in judgement on the part of the 1965 inter-disciplinary term’s recommendations regarding the suitability of these islands for intensive development renamed unquestioned.

          The forest areas released to the Rehabilitation Department for reclamation and resettlement in their major projects were:-

  • In Katchal, 1200 hectares had been released, including the area for the rubber plantation.

  • In Little Andaman 2864.5 hectares for rehabilitation, 200 hectares for the Nicobarese settlement and 164 hectares for defence had been released, totaling 3228.5 hectares.

  • In Great Nicobar, 7055 hectares for ex-servicemen settlements and 1335 hectares for defense services have been released, totaling 8390 hectares.

          The Rehabilitation projects needed detailed study and evaluation. The very concept of rehabilitation was to make self sufficient, economically independent model communities, besides establishing the presence of Indian citizens in the area for geopolitical reasons. The Rehabilitation programme particularly in Great Nicobar was taken up to establish Indian presence in uninhabited island located so far from our shores, the lands were cleared and used optimally giving crucial importance from the defense point of view.

          The Rehabilitation programme in Great Nicobar was strategic importance of the area for developmental potentialities, the programme was launched in 1969 to induct Ex-servicemen from all parts of India to settle in Grate Nicobar. Till 1982, 330 Ex-servicemen families from 9 states in India have been resettled in 7 villages along the east coast between Campbell Bay and South Bay.

Out of this, 52 settlers have already deserted. Each of these families were given 11 acres of land for agriculture plantation and homestead. In the case of the 100 pilot project settlers, an additional 3.5 acres of land for raising plantations has been allotted.

          Very costly soil conservation measures have been drawn up and reportedly executed. As part of the agricultural extension work, ‘A Progeny Orchard-cum-Nursery’ has been established at Govindnagar to raise seedlings of coconut, arecanut seedlings fruit plants. A pest control laboratory and Research Farm was established in the same village. (Ref: Note on Rehabilitation programmed if Great Nicobar 1982 A & N Administration & Basic statistics of Great Nicobar Islands by the office of the Assistant Commissioner Rehabilitation,- Campbell Bay 1980).

          The accelerated development programme at Betapur (Middle Andaman) and Neil Island have so far been completed with the settlement of about 340 families and about 100 families in Betapur and Neil Island respectively. The settlement programme in these two islands has been completed and the projects are going to be handed over to the Andaman and Nicobar Administration.    The Ministry of Labour and Rehabilitation (Department of Rehabilitation) vide their Memorandum No. 2(138)/72-SA dated 17th February 1973 demarcated the function of the Department of Rehabilitation in respect of Special Areas Development Programmed in A & N Islands. It has been decided that the activities of the Department of Rehabilitation will remain confined in Middle Andaman (Betapur), Neil Island, Little Andaman, Katchal and Great Nicobar.

          The Betapur Project area in Middle Andaman stretches over a length of over 20 kms. and erstwhile East Pakistan migrant families who were initially brought in these isles in the year 1965-66 as members of Rashtriya Vikas Dal have been settled there on Agricultural land in 1968-69. The project was looked after by the following:-Officer-On-Special Duty – 1968-69, Research Officer – 1969-70.

          For administrative purpose the project area has been divided into three blocks, namely Billiground, Nimbudera and Badamnallah. 334 agriculturist families and 5 small trade families have been settled. Agriculturist families have been allotted 5 acres of agricultural land and 1/3 acres of home stead land. The S.T. Families have been allotted 2/3 acres of business-cum-Homestead land.

Neil IslandThe Inter Departmental Team constituted by the Department of Rehabilitation, Govt. of India had in their report on the Accelerated Development Programme in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands estimated that about 2500 acres of land would be available in Neil Island for the settlement of families.1090 acres of land have been reclaimed manually in Neil Island.

          At present there are 98 migrant families from erstwhile East Pakistan. All the families have been settled on Agricultural land. Each family has been allotted 5 acres of agricultural land and 1/3 acre of Homestead land.

Little Andaman -The Island of Little Andaman is 282.4 Sq. miles in area and is 100 kms. away from Port Blair. It is desired to maintain suitable reservation for them and to respect their way of life.

          Considering the vast potential of the island, two schemes as follows have been submitted to the Govt. of India for approval.

  • Settlement of 250 migrant families.

  • Settlement of 7000 families.

          48 erstwhile East Pakistan families were initially inducted during the year 1969-70. Thereafter 32 families during July, 1971 and 43 families during May, 1972 have been shifted there from Neil Island. Thus, there are 123 families in total, out of which 80 families have been already allotted land permanently at the rate of 5 acres suitable for paddy cultivation. The remaining 43 families who have been shifted from Neil Island during 1972 had been provisionally allotted 2 acres paddy land per family on their arrival. The land reclaimed during the year 1972-73 has been demarcated into 51 plots and has been offered to remaining 43 families for permanent allotment. These families have 6 however so far not accepted the lands offered to them.

          Out of land reclaimed, about 35,000 acres will be available for settlement purposes after leaving the areas for roads, village sites and community purposes. At the rate of 5 acres of cultivable land and 1/3rd acres for homestead for each family, it would be possible to settle 7,000 families in the island over a period of 5 years.


          Agriculture forms the second major use of the land in Andaman and Nicobar Islands put after Forestry. Supporting a population of 1.88lakhs in 1981 the islands were expected to become self-sufficient as far as food crops are concerned in the shortest possible time. That goal even now remains a dream.

Good plans shape good decisions. That’s why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.”– Lester R. Bittel