The Year Of Horticulture
The Ministry of Agriculture has decided to mark 2012 as the Year of Horticulture to acknowledge the salience and centrality of horticulture in the agricultural development of the country. As has been mentioned in these columns earlier, till very recently, horticulture had always been treated as an ‘adjunct’ to agriculture, and never as a sector in its own right. However, considering the fact that with just 20 million hectares (mha), or one seventh of the area under agriculture (I40 mha), it produces over one third of the agriculture GDP in the country, and has the potential to record a double-digit growth, this recognition was forthcoming. There are other aspects which need to be considered as well. As incomes grow, the share of the horticulture produce in the ‘consumption basket’ shows a considerable increase. Even though cereals, oil, pulses and sugar continue to occupy the main share of the consumer’s rupee, flowers, fruits , nuts, honey and spices will soon take over especially as with the exception of onions and potato, the rest are not really ‘price sensitive’.
What does the Year of Horticulture entail? Does it have a meaning beyond the declaration and the logo, letterheads and stationery? Are there any tangible gains that can be listed out by the end of the year? Who will organise it? Is it a few high-profile seminars in New Delhi or does it include awareness and campaigns at district and sub-district levels? Where is the actual work being done? Agro-Watch will address these issues.
First things first. The Year of Horticulture is more than a ‘formal declaration’. It is a commitment from the National Horticulture Masson (NHM), the Horticulture Mission for the North-East and Himalayan states (HMNEH), the National Mission on Micro Irrigation (NMMI), the National Horticulture Board and the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC) to ensure that horticulture is placed on a ‘sustainable development track’ by ensuring that all loose ends are tied up, and seamless integration takes place—from pre-production to post-harvest management. Thus it starts with a focus on planting material, tissue culture labs and nursery accreditation to give a firm foundation to the sector. The fact is that neither the public, nor the private sector nurseries in the country were geared for such a massive expansion in this sector. It is only in the last decade, and more so from the second half of the Twelfth Plan period that public expenditure has been focused on this sector. This was the period which saw several state governments establishing a separate directorate, and in many cases, even departments and ministries for horticulture. The food processing sector also came up in a big way and the need for ‘raw material’ also called for greater focus on the horticulture production side. Plus the paradigm changed… commodities had to be processed not because they were in excess, but because there was a demand for processed food. Thus, potato and banana chips, and tomato and mango puree were in production not to meet the excess supply but additional supply had to be created to meet the demand for processed food. Also, the needs and demands of the food processing sector became distinct from that of the table varieties.
Thus, the ‘first tangible’ is to lay the foundations for a strong base which can meet at least 125 per cent of the expected demand for the growing sector. This would call for a calibrated plan with all the state horticulture directors, ICAR institutions, seed companies, tissue culture labs, nurseries and the NHB. The first cut of the road map should be ready by May this year, especially as this will be the theme of the Horticulture Conference being convened on February 17 at New Delhi to take stock of all aspects relating to production and productivity.
To take this forward, each state is preparing a Strategic Action Plan not just to meet its own requirements, but also to meet the requirements of planting material and seeds in different parts of the country. Thus, Punjab, Himachal and Uttarakhand supply potato seed for the entire country, and there is a need to breeder seeds are distributed to states, not on the basis of the production of potato, but on their ability to produce true potato seed. Many states are giving the required thrust to tissue culture labs, and are also setting up Centres of Excellence for the production of seedlings for distribution to farmers. States will also look at protected cultivation in a big way, as it is certainly going to be a game changer especially in the peri-urban areas, and for marginal and small farmers who have the capacity to put in intensive labour, and work 24×7. States are also being advised to ensure that Kisan Melas are organised at district and sub-district levels especially on the crops that are germane to the area, and ensure that these interactions are meaningful and positive. Besides each state will also plan a regional or national workshop to ensure networking of experts, farmers and stakeholders to ensure that domain specific expertise is shared on a pan-India basis.
An important role has also been envisaged for national-level agencies such as APEDA, National Seeds Corporation, SFAC, NHB and FEHL. To illustrate, the SFAC will hold regional and national workshops to promote the concept of Farmers Producer Organisations. Given the fact that the structure of our landholdings will continue to be ‘marginal and small holders’, the only way for them to ensure economies of scale and scope, and ensure that transactions costs and time remain competitive is to follow the ‘collective’ route, without the rigidities of the formal co-operative structure. SFAC will also organise a national consultation on financial inclusion for farmers groups. The idea is to involve as many agencies, institutions and farmers as is possible in making horticulture ‘matter’ in the Y-O-H! (Year of Horticulture)
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)