Horticulture too can bring change

A silver lining in the grim agricultural scenario in the country is the record horticultural production achieved in 2014-15. Consecutive droughts for two years had a serious impact on foodgrain production. But horticulture actually gained and recorded an
output of 283.5 million tonnes, much more than the foodgrain production of 252.7 million tonnes, according to the figures released by the agriculture ministry last week. Horticulture production has surpassed foodgrain production in the last three years and this is a good sign. India now comes second in horticultural production in the world after China. The area under horticulture has increased annually by over 2 per cent in the last one decade and production has consistently improved by 7 per cent. Horticultural crops have a wide range from fruit and vegetables to flowers, spices and aromatics. The wide variety is suitable for the range of climatic, geographical and other variations in the country.

While there is great scope for further growth in horticultural production, there are severe constraints also. Many horticultural crops are perishable, unlike most cereals. Therefore, infrastructure for cold storage is essential in villages. Reliable power supply and good road linkages and transport facilities are needed. Food processing industry also has to develop so that value can be added to horticultural produce. At present, agricultural mark-eting is constrained by the presence of multiple intermediaries between the farmer and the consumer. If the constraints are eased and facilities are developed, farmers will be ready to bring more area under horticulture. The large amount of wastage which takes place now can be avoided. Farmers should also be made aware of new trends and better practices to be adopted on the field. The national horticulture mission, which was set up in 2005, has done good work but it still has to improve its functioning and reach out to more farmers in more areas. 

Horticulture needs more encouragement and promotion for many reasons. There is the need for diversification of crops away from cereals for the health of the soil. Horticultural crops generally require less water than many other crops and are more resilient to rain shortfall. They also need less investment and give greater returns. Horticulture can bring about another green revolution in the country if its potential is realised. Consumption of fruit and vegetables is increasing in the country because standards of living are increasing. India is a major exporter of horticultural produce but there is scope for more exports. So, the demand is only set to increase in the coming years.

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