The economy of the East Garo Hills district is basically agrarian and rural based. Agriculture is the mainstay of about 90 percent of the population of East Garo Hills and most earn their livings directly or indirectly from agriculture. Traditionally, agriculture in the district is mostly of food crops and it is only in the recent years that cash crops agriculture is gaining popularity. There is a great potential for Agro-based industries in the district. Rice is the most important food crop that is grown in the district, both in the plains and i the hills. Other food crops that are widely grown in the district is tapioca or manoic, yam, maize and millet. The district produces substantial quantities of fruits like oranges, pineapples, bananas and jackfruit and spices like chillies, ginger, tumeric and bay leaves. In recent years there has been an increase in the coverage of plantation crops like rubber, coffee, tea, cashew nuts. The latest horticultural introduction is vanilla vines. There is also scope for floriculture to flourish, due to favourable climate enabling low cost cultivation. The district is ideal for growing orchids and tropical blooms like anthurium and bird of paradise (Strelitzia Reginae). However, the market potential for flowers is still at it's nascent, developmental stage.
Although the economy of the state is largely agrarian, agriculture and agro-based industries has not been fully exploited in the district. There is tremendous potential for investment and development in food processing and ample scope for setting up a viable large scale fruit processing units in the district. Besides agriculture, a small part of the economy is occupied in small-scale industries such as sericulture & weaving, animal husbandry and dairy farming, carpentry & bamboo-working, brick-making, etc. Mining is another important industry. The district has fairly large reserves of coal, limestone and clay.
The Garos have a tradition of self-sufficiency in many of the articles of everyday use, which have in time become part of their material culture. Among these may be mentioned their textile, their pottery, their basketry and the products of a large number of other crafts.
Their environment has been a generous provided. The forests provide an almost limitless quantity of timber, bamboo and cane, which are so necessary for their dwellings or for household articles. Their fields yield cotton for their yarn.
A brief account of the industries that flourish in the district is given below:
Weaving is one of the most important vocations in the economic life of the Garos. The Garo Hills have for long produced short-stapled cotton and the weavers of Garo Hills are known for their exquisite skill in weaving various types of fabrics.
The principal products still are the Dakmanda and Daksaria. These are famous for their texture and their variegated colourful designs.Besides these, the artisians also produce other articles like gamchas, bed covers etc. Training centers for artisan weavers are located at Tura, Resubelpara, Baghmara, Williamnagar and Shyamnagar (Phulbari) in all the three districts of Garo Hills.
Sericulture can be a very important source of subsidiary income for those families which are engaged in shifting cultivation, provided they can be persuaded to take up settled agriculture. Mulberry and other plants suitable for rearing Eri and Muga Silkworms grow well in the Garo Hills though most of the plantations are in the interior hills and forests. The Eri silk-growing centers are located at Samanda and the Muga silk-growing centers at A’dokgre. Like the cotton industry, this industry also faces problems as dearth of trained technical personnel, inadequate landholdings and dearth of rearing accommodation for individual silk-worm rearers and absence of research facilities.
Garos are well known in north-east India for their handicrafts and textiles, specially for handloom industries. However, they produce only for local consumption and not in large scale. Most of the Garo handicrafts are Am (Mat), Kera or Kok (Conical basket), Ruan (winnowing fan), Gitchera (winnowing net), Chokki (chair), and domestic items such as Bamboo-spoon, rice stick, bamboo mug etc. The household furniture are made out of cane, bamboo and wood
Some other types of industries in which people in the districts engage themselves are described below:
Carpentry, Bee-Keeping, Cane and Bamboo Work, Pottery, Pulse Processing, Black smithy etc.
Bamboo is used by Garo farmers in making borangs, watchtowers from which they guard their crops from wild animals and thieves.
At present there are 20 Industrial Cooperative Societies and 6 Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Societies in Garo Hills Districts. The industrial cooperative societies as voluntary organizations of artisans and craftsmen seek to promote and develop the economic and cultural interest of their members. The main objectives of these societies are to provide for members economic facilities for obtaining raw materials, equipment and other requirements for the smooth running of their industries, to organize the industrial activities of members so that the maximum output is obtained with the minimum of effort, to give technical advice and assistance and to provide training facilities, to maintain the highest possible standard of work and design, to arrange disposal of finished product in most profitable manner as well as to provide finance to the members for industrial expansion.
Agriculture is the mainstay of about 90 percent of the population and rice is the most important of the food crops grown in the districts, both in the pains areas where it is grown in wet paddy fields and in the hill areas where it is chiefly grown on jhum fields. Even here, the deteriorating condition of jhum lands and, on the other hand, the awareness of the comparative advantage of wet rice cultivation particularly After the introduction of high-yield varieties has induced a number of farmers in the hill areas to turn away from jhumming.
The major crops raised in the Garo hills are paddy, maize, jute, mesta, cotton, ginger and mustard. Wheat is grown but because of the low demand, much of the yield goes to markets outside the districts.
Subsidiary crops are millet, pulses, potatoes, sesamum, chillis, turmeric, arhar, tobacco, tapioca, sweet potato and soya bean.
Vegetables grown included pumpkin, gourd, cucumber, brinjal, onion, peas, carrot, melon, radish, squash, turnip, garlic, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, knol-khol, tomato, etc.
Fruits included papaya, pineapple, orange, pomelo, jack-fruit, litchi, mango, pears, sapota, cashewnuts, bananas, etc. coconut and areca nut are also grown widely.
The increased demand for jute, mesta, mustard, ginger, cotton, rubber and other cash crops has also encouraged farmers to increase the area of cultivation for these crops. Improved road communication and marketing facilities as well as improved methods of cultivation and crop protection have also contributed to the increase in the production of food and cash crops, though these advantages have been offset in certain cases by scarcity of good cultivatable land and fluctuations in the market prices of some items.
The department of Agriculture has come forward with several schemes designed to increased food production, chiefly those involving distribution oh high yield varieties and improved varieties of seed, better soil and water management and plant protection measure.
Due to widespread practice of shifting cultivation and deforestation, the Agriculture Department has taken up Horticulture in the district as the topmost priority.
The important fruit crops of the district are oranges, pineapple, litchi, banana, jackfruit and other citrus fruits. Important plantation crops are arecanut, cashewnut, coconut, tea, black pepper, bayleaf, betel leaf and rubber.
The East Garo Hills District with its undulating topography and high intensity of rainfall, suffers acute erosion problem and ecosystem degradation. The problem is further compounded by unscientific agricultural practices such as jhumming/shifting cultivation on steep slopes, rampant deforestation, burning etc., which has resulted in degradation of land and water resources. With a view to reduce the process, the Government of Meghalaya, through the Soil & Water Conservation Directorate, has taken and is taking up variety of measures that would conserve and protect and which would also make the people aware of the fact that their age-old practices are responsible for the abrupt changes in the ecosystem in this pocket of our globe.
To combat the harmful effects of jhumming, the Soil Conservation Directorate has taken up a major Scheme called the "Jhummia Rehabilitation Scheme", which is designed to offer an alternative method of food production, which would also improve the socio-economic condition of the people of this District.
Apart from the aforesaid major Scheme, the Directorate of Soil Conservation has other Schemes as the former is effectively implemented in the worst jhum affected areas and are briefed as follows.
1. Watershed Management Scheme - in different catchments areas.
2. Cash/Horticulture Crops Development.
3. General Schemes.
The component of works under each scheme are identical; Land Development Programme – terracing, contour bunding, stream bank erosion control, land reclamation, water harvesting, conservation & distribution, irrigation ∓ check dams, gully plugging, afforestation etc., and are being implemented by the Territorial Division.
And in regard of Cash/Horticultural Crops Development Schemes, a separate Division called the "Cash Crop Division" under the same Directorate is carrying out the implementation of works.
Irrigation has so far played only a minimal role in agriculture in the Garo Hills. The topography itself makes alignment and construction of channels difficult and comparatively costly. However, even in areas where the lay of the land is more favourable, irrigation is confined to areas bordering rivers and streams. Farmers in the hills have traditionally depended upon rainfall, the months of heavy rainfall being May to September. The abundant supply of rain during the growing season reduces the dependence on artificial alternatives, except during the brief dry spell before the monsoons. Wherever irrigation is feasible, the Department of Agriculture as well as the Soil Conservation Department has taken up a number of small-scale irrigation schemes and more are being investigated, especially to meet the needs of farmers in areas where double cropping is in vogue.