The horticulture sector, with a wide array of crops ranging from fruits and vegetables to orchids and nuts, mushrooms and honey – has been a driving force in the stimulating a healthy growth trend in Indian agriculture. India is currently producing 257.2 million tonnes of horticulture produce from an area of 23 million ha. What is significant is that over the last decade, the area under horticulture grew by about 3.8%per annum but production rose by 7.4% per annum. Given the increasing pressure on land, the focus of growth strategy is on raising productivity by supporting high density plantations, protected cultivation, micro irrigation, quality planting material, rejuvenation of senile orchards and focus on post harvest management to ensure that farmers do not lose their produce in transit from farm gate to the consumers plate.

Fruits:

With a production of 76.4 million tonnes, fruits accounts for about 30 per cent of the total production of horticulture crops. The area under fruit crops during 2011-12 was 6.6 million ha, which is almost 29 per cent of area under horticulture in India. The area under fruit crops has increased from 4.0 million ha in 201-02 to 6.7 million ha in 2011-12 with corresponding increase in production from 43.0 to 76.4 million tonnes. A large variety of fruits are grown in India. Of these, banana, mango, citrus, papaya, guava, grape, sapota, pomegranate, pineapple, aonla, litchi, pear, plum, walnut, etc are important. India accounts for 13 percent of the total world production of fruits and leads the world in the production of mango, banana, papaya, sapota, pomegranate, acid lime and aonla.

The leading fruit growing states are Maharashtra which accounts for 16.0 per cent of production followed by Andhra Pradesh (13.0%), Gujarat (10.0%), Karnataka (9.0%), Uttar Pradesh (8.0%), Tamil Nadu (7.0%) and Bihar (5.0%) altogether contributes for about 68.0 percent of the total fruit production in the country. Banana is the major fruit accounting for 35 per cent of total production followed by mango (4.0%), citrus (11.0%), papaya (6.0%), others (17.7%) in the country. It may also be mentioned that in the Himalayan states of Himachal and J&K the GDP from apples, plums, pears and stone fruits exceeds that of GDP from cereal crops.

Vegetables:

Vegetables are also an important constituent in horticulture sector which are mostly low gestation and high income generating crops. Many vegetables are now grown under protected cultivation like green houses and shade nut houses with a scope for off season production, which fetches remunerative prices.
Vegetables occupied an area of 8.9 million ha during 2011-12 with a total production of 155.9 million tonnes having average productivity of 17.4 tonnes/ha.

Vegetable production registered a quantum jump of 77 per cent between 2001-02 and 2011-12.

More than 40 kinds of vegetables belonging to different groups are grown in India in tropical, sub tropical and temperate regions. Important vegetable crops grown in the country are potato, tomato, onion, brinjal, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, okra, chilies, beans, melons, etc. The leading vegetables growing states are West Bengal which accounts for 15% of production followed by Uttar Pradesh (12%), Bihar (10.0%), Andhra Pradesh (8.0%), Madhya Pradesh (6.5%), Gujarat (6.4%), Tamil Nadu (5.8%), Maharashtra (5.7%), Karnataka (5.0%) and Haryana (3.0%) altogether contributes about 83.4% of the total vegetable production in the country. Among vegetables, potato is the major vegetable accounting for 27.0% followed by tomato (12%), onion (11.0%), brinjal (8.0%), cabbage (5.4%), cauliflower (4.7%), okra (4.0%), peas (2.5%) and others (25.4%) in the country. India is the second largest producer of vegetables after China and is a leader in production of vegetables like peas and okra. Besides, India occupies the second position in production of brinjal, cabbage, cauliflower and onion and third in potato and tomato in the world. Vegetables such as potato, tomato, okra and cucurbits are produced abundantly in the country.

Spices:

India is the largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices and spice products in the world. Over 100 plant species are known to yield spices and spice products among which around 50 are grown in India. India is known as the home of spices producing a wide variety of spices like black pepper, chilies, ginger, turmeric, garlic, cardamom and variety of tree and seed spices. Major spice producing states are Andhra Pradesh (19.0%), Gujarat (15.0%), Rajasthan (14.7%), Karnataka (8.0%), Madhya Pradesh (7.7%) and Tamil Nadu (7.0%). The spice production in India is currently estimated at 5.95 million tonnes from an area of about 3.21milion ha.

The production of spices in the country has registered a substantial increase over the last ten years with average annual growth of 5.8%. Chili is the major spice crop occupying about 25% of area under cultivation and contributing 22% of total spice production in the country. Garlic accounts for 8.0% of area with 21.0% share in production, while turmeric accounts for 6.8% of area with 19.6% share in production.

Flowers:

India has made noticeable advance in the production of flowers, particularly cut flowers, which have a good potential for exports. During 2011-12, floriculture covered an area of 0.32 million ha with a production of 2.6 million tonnes of loose flowers and 75066 million numbers of cut flowers. This sector is generating higher income and employment opportunities especially for women.

While India has been known for growing traditional flowers such as jasmine, marigold, chrysanthemum, tuberose and aster, the commercial cultivation of cut flowers like roses, orchids, gladiolus, carnation, gerbera, anthurium and lilium has become popular in recent times. The important flower growing states are West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, North East, etc. Major area is devoted to production of marigold, jasmine, roses, chrysanthemum, tuberose, etc. The area under cut flowers having stems has increased manifold. Orchids, anthurium, lilium, gerbera and seasonal bulbous flowers are increasingly being grown both for domestic and export markets.
Growth in Exports:

Not only have these impressive production figures ensured a steady supply for the domestic market, they have also made Indian horticulture exports globally competitive. Over the last decade, there has been a significant improvement in export earnings in horticulture.
The horticulture division is working closely with APEDA and state governments to ensure that infrastructure and institutional support for export is available to ensure that farmers can leverage export markets for higher incomes.

Consumers would welcome anything that helps keep the weekly grocery prices under control as food prices continue to rise while incomes stagnate.

Farmers, also, have come under increasing pressure from volatile prices for their crops, the efforts of suppliers to keep prices low in the shops and the increasingly uncertain global weather.

At the same time they are asked to farm sustainably to protect the environment, produce more natural, chemical free food and equally to improve the yield from their land to meet the food needs of a larger global population.

In the UK, some East Anglian organic grain farmers have recently joined together in a contract with a company that needed a regular supply of food for its organically-reared pigs.

As one farmer said, it is very difficult to assess the market supply and demand particularly in the organic market and the arrangement they reached had several benefits.

It meant both buyer and sellers were no longer susceptible to the vagaries of the market and to stablise the prices right through to the retailer and share the costs. It also made it possible to make the whole supply chain from land to pig meat traceable and to reduce the carbon footprint by supplying to a local buyer.

It worked because all those involved knew each other and were in the same area, but there is no reason why the model could not be used by other farmers both in the UK and overseas.

Research in East Agnlia is also being carried out to identify the different genetic characteristics in various grain seeds. The aim is to find those that are better for growing in an area of increasing drought and are better protected against the new plant diseases that might arise. Cross breeding, for example, could then be used to produce a resilient variety suited to the local climate.

Other research that has been going on, mainly in the USA has been in providing better crop and land protection in a more natural way, as a substitute for the many now-discredited older generation of chemical fertilisers.

The range of innovations includes biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers that are developed from natural sources and leave minimal residues in the land and in the crop. They will also help farmers to meet the growing demand for natural foods with less waste and less loss of the nutrition in their land

These new low-chem agricultural products are subject to careful testing and licensing before they are allowed onto the market and this can be an expensive and lengthy process, taking up to eight years in some cases because regulation is not yet standardised across individual countries, so they may need to be licensed separately in several places.

There are signs, however, that more effort is being put into innovation in the various aspects of food production to respond to the concerns of consumers on both price and food quality.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers