A Revamped Mission For Horticulture!
We have a new avatar to consolidate all interventions in the horticulture sector—from NHM to HMNEH (Horticulture Mission for North-East and the Himalayan Region) to NHB (National Horticulture Board), CDB (Coconut Development Board), NBM (National Bamboo Mission) and CIH (Central Institute of Horticulture). This should, hopefully, make it easier both for the Centre and the states to make the interventions more meaningful, besides rationalising cost norms and pattern of assistance. In fact, the North-East and Himalayan states are set to gain the most, because there will be a clear direction and mandate for the state horticulture missions, as against the current practice of having four mini-missions looking after research, horticulture interventions on farmers fields, commercial horticulture and food processing.
So what does the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH) envisage? It is intended to be the integrated intervention for this sector—covering everything from soil preparation to planting material to good agricultural practices, research and HRD, skill development, post-harvest management, cold chain infrastructure and centres of excellence. In fact, it is an omnibus approach to this sector which is gaining ground—both literally and metaphorically. All states and Union Territories are expected to prepare their Annual Action Plans keping in view the opportunities, challenges and resources available to them and discuss them with the MIDH so that a clear strategy could be evolved. This year, the effort is that even though it is an election year, all states must have their action plans ready by the close of the financial year so that interventions are not held up for the next three months on account of elections.
What are the thrust areas? First and foremost—planting material and quality seeds. There is no point crowing about our global position in production, unless we have competitive yields. This is possible only if we had good quality nurseries and tissue culture (TC) labs. While funding is available for both, the Mission is now determined to ensure accreditation: of nurseries from NHB and of TC labs from the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). In fact, area expansion is now linked to availability of planting material, and unless a state can show where it intends getting the planting material, the plans are not likely to be approved.
Of equal importance to planting material is protected cultivation and post-harvest management. Protected cultivation not only insulates the farmers from the vagaries of nature, it also helps the producer gear the production for the markets. Not only does production grow manifold, it ensures better resource use efficiency, traceability and aggregation into marketable lots. Post-harvest management is important to address concerns relating to perishability and shelf life but is not synonymous with cold chain infrastructure. Better pack houses on farm sites and organisation initiatives with regard to aggregation and arrangement of transport to market yards are perhaps more cost effective than the establishment of cold chain infrastructure. Interestingly, this advice comes from the National Centre for Cold Chain Development, which is mandated to promote cold chain in the country and is a technical support agency to the MIDH. NCCD is in the process of identifying both the best practices and the bottlenecks for the benefit of existing and potential stakeholders in the sector.
Is it possible to have uncritical acceptance of any new intervention? Not unless it is divine! Which this one is not. And so most state governments have expressed their concern with the revised fund flow mechanisms, whereby these are transferred to the state treasuries, rather than to the accounts of the Mission. While it may impede the fund flow, the counter factual that is that the involvement of the state governments will certainly be greater if funds are routed through them. In any case, this provision of routing mission funds through states is applicable to all Missions—from Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission to National Rural Health Mission to the Food Security Mission. There are certainly issues with regard to ongoing support for infrastructure created in previous years that should have been on an auto-pilot mode by now. But in balance, the general feeling of the states to the new guidelines appears to be positive! In fact, many states are eagerly embracing the big-ticket interventions like Centres for Excellence, each of which can draw up to Rs 10 ten crore, likewise for TC labs, for which cost norms have been revised to Rs 2.5 crore each. In fact, at a recent meeting with Mission Directors of the North-East states in Kolkata, the possibility of setting up TC labs for potato in Tripura with possibilities of export of planting material to Bangladesh came up for discussion. This is indeed a brilliant suggestion—for the best way to break isolation, and expand the markets for produce from the NE is by opening up trade with our eastern neighbour. Likewise, Bhutan is also ideally suited to act as the hub for seed production on account of its unique geographic advantages. As a matter of fact, horticulture holds the key to livelihoods and economic sustainability for the North-East, Bhutan and Bangladesh and it makes more sense for this region to feed the growing market in the rest of India.
By Sanjeev Chopra
(An IAS Officer, the author is Joint Secretary & Mission Director, National Horticulture Mission, Government of India. The views expressed are personal.)