The economy of Dhemaji is generally agro-based. Sericulture, fishing and driftwood business are practiced in smaller scale. However, sand deposition and other adverse effects of chronic floods on fertile agricultural land have made even affluent farmers land-less. Therefore a large number of such people shift to greener pastures within the district to carry out horticultural practices. Lack of good communication system, shortage of power and lack of proper irrigation & marketing facilities add to the poverty of the district. Dearth of any major and small industry worth the name is also responsible for multiplying the problem of unemployment while galloping explosion in the rate of population growth has already shown signs of negative impacts. The local economy is thus characterized by subsistence level of production and consumption.
In Dhemaji district, about 98% of the total population live in the rural areas. As per 1991 census, 45% of the population are workers, while 55% of the population are non-workers. Out of the total workers population, the break up is as follows:
· Cultivators : 60%
· Agricultural labourers : 3.7%
· Livestock, forestry, fishery etc. : 1%
· Marginal workers & other services : 30%
· Trade, Commerce, storage etc. : 4%
· Manufacturing, processing, repairing : 1.62%
This is a clear indication that the majority of the population is dependent on agriculture. Employment in trade, commerce and industries is almost insignificant.
Agriculture is the principal occupation and more than 85% of the total population depends on it. Irrigation is largely rain-fed, with mechanized shallow tube wells. Paddy cultivation covered 62.59% of the total cropped area of undivided Lakhimpur district in 1949-50 and 65.50% in 1961. Sali, Ahu and Boro are the three main varieties of rice commonly grown in Dhemaji and Lakhimpur districts. Kharif rice (Sali) occupies an area of about 54000 ha of which 16878 ha is under HYV. Ahu rice covers an area of 14000 ha. Around 6000 ha of the district is under Bao rice that is mainly grown in the low lying alluvial belts. In Rabi season toria and wheat covers an area of 13200 ha and 2000 ha respectively. Out of the total cropped area around 20155 ha is double cropped. The major cropping systems are Sali rice followed by Ahu rice, rice followed by toria, rice followed by vegetables and rice-fallow. In addition, sugarcane and mustard are also grown in some places of the district. The principal mustard growing areas are Gohaingaon, Talahi, and Narayanpur mouzas of Dhakuakhana. Pulses are mostly grown in alluvial flat lands on the riverbanks. The commonly grown pulses are Matimah (Phaseolus mango), Magumah (Phaseolus aureus), Arhar (Cajanus cajon), Masurmah (Pisum sativum).
It is significant to note that in the past 5 years people have started making experiments to see whether a shift to horticulture would be more beneficial.
Most families rear pigs, goats and poultry, however lack of adequate veterinary facility and knowledge of scientific breeding has left the livestock with poor gene pool. People continuously lose their cattle and poultry to the scourge of floodwaters. In spite of the existence of Government infrastructure the people have not benefited from the services as most of the time, veterinary personnel and medicines are not to be found.
In Assam, Sericulture is an age-old traditional cottage industry. Next to agriculture, Sericulture is the major agro-based industry generating large number of employment in the rural areas of Assam with minimum investment cost. It plays a very vital role in the socio-economic development of the weaker section of the rural population especially during their off-agricultural season.
Dhemaji and Lakhimpur districts occupy a unique place in the production of the three different kinds of silks - Pat, Muga and Eri - which have a very high demand in the national and international markets. Muga silk (Antheraea assamensis) and Eri Silk worm rearing (Samia cynthia ricini) and production of silk yarn and fabric is wide spread amongst the people of Dhemaji and Dhakuakhana. However due to lack of proper infrastructure and appropriate marketing facility this industry has not been exploited to its full potential.
The main problems facing the Sericulture Industry and the grass root people are manifold. The problems vary with the type of silk, yet they hold certain common components like: -
· Lack of good quality food plants.
· Lack of technical know-how on seed cocoon preservation and production.
· Lack of storage facility for cocoon, yarn, seed cocoon etc.
· Lack of advanced equipment for weaving, reeling, spinning etc.
· Lack of knowledge of pests & diseases, their control and prevention etc.
· Lack of marketing linkages
· Lack of knowledge on marketing design, product standardization etc.
Dhemaji district has 1 Eri concentration centre, 3 Muga food plantation centres, 1 collective mulberry garden, 1 Eri seed grainage all run by the Government, however these infrastructures provide little support to the silk rearers and some are even non functional.
Fish drying is another practice carried out during the monsoon season, mainly by the people living near the rivers. The market value of the produce is high, but poor communication facilities in the district, especially during the monsoon months, result in high transportation costs. Another factor that affects the trade adversely is the lack of storage facility so that the producers can wait till the roads are repaired.
Industries, Trade & Commerce:
There are no significant small-scale industries and not a single big industry in the entire Dhemaji district. Some of the small-scale units are registered as weaving or cane and bamboo industries, however the actual production does not have any market value due to competition from highly finished machine goods that are cheap and maintenance free. The silk industry has the potential to be commercially tapped. Some local people of the area also produce mustard, but they are not able to compete with the non-local businessmen who control the market.