Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Agri-Biz & Commodities
Horticulture/Fruits & Vegetables
Government - Agricultural Policy
Horticulture mission a booster dose for R&D
New Delhi , May 23
THE Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) recently cleared a Centrally-sponsored scheme on National Horticulture Mission (NHM) with an outlay of Rs 2,300-crore in the Tenth Plan itself, which would go a long way to root out inefficiencies in the production, processing and marketing of fruits and vegetables available throughout the year in the country.
The objective of the NHM is to double horticulture production to 300 million tonnes (mt) by 2011-12 with technological interventions through forward and backward linkages from production to marketing and processing of horticultural produce.
Horticulture includes fruits, vegetables, flowers, nuts and spices and currently India grows about 146 mt to 150 mt of such produce.
Horticulture accounts for close to 29.5 per cent of the country's agricultural GDP from 8.5 per cent area and 10 per cent of the total agricultural export earnings. Available latest trade data show that exports of fresh fruits and vegetables constitute a meagre 0.46 per cent of total trade and fetched $3,210.48 million during April-February 2004-05.
India continues to rank as the second largest producer of fruits in the world with an annual production of 43 mt from an area of 4 million hectares and contributes to more than 9 per cent of global fruit production.
It also holds analogous status in vegetable production by being the world's second largest producer with 80.26 million tonnes, next only to China and accounting for about 9.3 per cent of the world's vegetable production.
Considering the hiatus between high production and relatively low exports with domestic consumption showing no distinct offtake, the culprit is squarely laid on the enormous wastage in post-harvest.
A house panel report, while analysing the demand for grants of the Department of Agricultural Research and Education, pointed that the "nation has been facing recurring post-harvest losses of horticultural crops of about Rs 51,500 crore per annum for want of effective, easily accessible and economically viable means to prevent such losses".
It is against this backdrop that the NHM is cast to focus on horticultural research and horticultural development through generation of good quality seeds and planting material, coverage of area with improved varieties and productivity improvement programmes.
The effort is also to address post-harvest management and marketing by fostering infrastructure facilities for cold chains, market yards and market intelligence and value addition.
No wonder a fundamental premise of the NHM is to bring under horticultural crops about 33 lakh hectares additional area and rejuvenates 16 lakh hectares of senile plantation by the end of the Eleventh Plan (2007-12). Alongside, about 21 lakh hectares would be covered under the integrated pest management and also about 2,040 nurseries would be established to make available good quality planting material.
Since 2002, the country has been exporting fresh and processed fruits and vegetables through 39 agri export zones (AEZs) in 19 States. An investment of Rs 1,018.85 crore is expected from the private sector, the Central and the State Governments in these AEZs during the next three to five years, according to senior officials of the Department of Commerce.
Moreover, the Government declared Vishesh Krishi Upaj Yojana (special agricultural produce scheme) in the foreign trade policy on August 31, 2004 for a five-year span, with a view to promoting export of fruits, vegetables, flowers, minor forest produce and their value-added products. Subsequently, exports of dairy, poultry and their value added products have also been included for benefits under the scheme.
With the Government gearing itself to promote horticulture, the spin-off effects in terms of imparting nutritional security, efficient input use, crop diversification, foreign exchange earnings and enhanced employment generation through agro-industries need to be reckoned, policy analysts contend.
The authorities should also not forget the need for establishing quality control and assurance laboratories for horticultural produce in view of the strict sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards insisted upon by importing countries in the post-WTO regime.
As big retail chains are likely to source bulk supply of fruits and vegetables within the domestic market for sale, this aspect needs serious attention along with post-harvest management of these perishable farm goods to make a little difference in the quality of life for growers of fruits and vegetables through reasonably fair rate of returns on their hard toil in the soil.
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