Technology and its dissemination to farmers’ fields plays a crucial role in Indian agriculture. Recognising that scientific research will be critical to doubling farmers’ income in the next five years, institutions under the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) are gearing themselves to deliver.
In the horticulture sector that involves vegetables, fruits, flowers, spices, aromatic plants and plantation crops, scientists are not only working towards developing new varietal seeds that give higher production, are resistant to pests, diseases and climatic changes but are also addressing issues of post-harvest losses and marketing under public-private partnerships.
Official statistics for 2015-16 reveal that India harvested 286.1 million tonnes of horticulture produce from 24.4 million hectares of land. As per the first advance estimates the production for 2016-17 is estimated at 28.7 million tonnes from 24.3 million hectares of land. The total output is expected to be higher by 2 % over the previous year.
Of this, the production of fruits is estimated at 92 million tonnes, which is higher than in 2015-16. The output of vegetables is likely to be around 168.6 million tonnes with tomato, and potato having registered a marginal increase over previous year.
Lately horticulture sector has grown by over 7 per cent and has the potential for providing nutritional security as well as profitability to farmers particularly the small and marginal ones. The percentage share of horticulture in Indian agriculture is around 33 per cent. Being second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables, India exported in 2014-15 fruits and vegetables worth Rs. 7474.14 crores.
Vegetables can contribute largely towards food and nutritional security of the people, particularly the poor. They are a rich source of vitamins, minerals and plant fibres which provide food and nutritional security. These also generate high income and employment, particularly for small farmers. There has been a revolution in the production of vegetables in the country in the last three and a half decades.
The demand for vegetables and fruits is said to be growing due to urbanization and rise in income levels and therefore, there is focussed attention on research in this sector. Much of the research in horticulture is being done under the ICAR’s All-India Coordinated Research Products (AICRP) headquartered at IHRI (Indian Institute for Horticulture Research) which has the mandate for identification and release of varieties and hybrids through multi-location testing with National Active Germplasm Sites under different agro-climatic zones.
While IIHR is the nodal centre for research and transfer on fruits, vegetables and pesticide residues, it coordinates research with regional stations at Hirehalli in Karnataka, Bhubaneshwar in Odisha and various Krishi Vigyan Kendras. The centres are involved in farmers’ on-farm and off- farm training and capacity building. Besides, it has collaborative linkages with the Department of Science and Technology, Department of Biotechnology, NABARD and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and international universities and organisations. Gaps identified in ongoing research are addressed through externally aided collaborative projects in a time-bound manner.
Among the latest premier technologies developed by agriculture scientists and taken to farmers’ fields are of triple disease resistant tomato (Arka Rakshak), onion (Arka Kalyan and Arka Niketan), chilli (Arka Saphal and Arka Lohit), okra (Arka Anamika) and brinjal (Arka Anand and Arka Keshav) and stringless French Bean variety (Arka Suvidha) which are grown in over 31 lakh hectares in various parts of the country. The salt-resistant Dogridge rootstock (on which grape creeper is grafted) identified for development of various varieties of grape including the sweet, dark, thin-skinned, seedless variety is much in demand. In addition organic farming packages have been developed for vegetables.
To prevent the mango orchard from being hit by fruit flies, researchers have developed eco-friendly pheromone trap which has become very popular with farmers as the trap catches the pest and prevents attack on the fruit.
In ornamental crops tuberose hybrid variety (Arka Prajawal) has a share of 38 per cent of the total sown area in the country. It has been adopted by farmers not only on Tamil Nadu but also in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Other notable varieties in ornamental crops are cut-rose varieties of Arka Parimala, Crossandra variety of Arka Ambara and Carnations (Arka Flame). The rose varieties are comparable to imported varieties and new strategies are being developed to beat competition within the country. Notable is Arka Swadesh under polyhouse conditions.
In the area of mushroom cultivation that fetches good price for farmers, Pink Oyster Mushroom variety has become popular. Other varieties too have been picked up for commercialisation with sellers are coming up with technological advancements in packaging.
With 60 per cent of farming under rain-fed conditions, the agriculture sector is gradually but firmly moving towards the idea of producing more from less water in keeping with the Prime Minister Modi’s slogan “More crop per drop”. Agriculture scientists at Central Horticulture Experiment Station in Bhubaneswar have oriented their research towards upgrading technologies for standardisation of drip and micro irrigation in vegetables, water management and in situ conservation using plastic mulch and drip-cum-mulch in vegetables crops in farmers fields. Some of the technologies had been adopted by the state government under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna that gave flexibility to states for use of funds.
Farmers who visit various vegetable and crop development centres of the ICAR can not only get knowledge, technology, seeds and saplings for fruit, vegetable, mushroom cultivation, organic farming, bio-intensive management of pests and diseases but also information on commercially viable post-harvest technologies, protocols for export of fruits, machinery for farm, mushroom spawn production, seed-cum-fertilizer drills at all the centres in Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Haryana, Assam and Sikkim.
Several of these technologies have been transferred to farmers’ fields or which ICAR institutions have won awards. Technologies and research varieties are also put on display-cum-sale at Krishi Melas organised frequently in various parts of the countries to facilitate farmers. At these melas scientists are available for dissemination of first-hand knowledge to farmers and addressing their concerns. Such inter-faces are held in the all-important animal husbandry, dairy sector and fisheries as well which have been identified as crucial areas of growth which will bring income to farmers.
With growing awareness, various ICAR centres have now opened up cells to extend services for formulation of business plans for farmers and entrepreneurs who also want to market farm produce gainfully in national and international markets.
*Author is an award-winning, senior journalist. She is based in New Delhi.