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Enhancing farmers' income through fruits and vegetables

Considering the declining trends observed in the size of agriculture land holdings, traditional crops of wheat, rice, cotton, maize, pulses and oilseeds would not help small farmers increase their income

Vegetable prices in TN soar as rain pounds state

Vegetable prices in TN soar as rain pounds state

It doesn't appear to be a Herculean task to encourage Indian farmers to focus on the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, which will have a positive impact on their finances and the country's economy as well. Farmers' income from agriculture and allied sectors continue to determine the purchasing power of masses despite the fact that India has made significant strides in services and industrial sectors. Since farming is our people's mainstay, the policy makers have always been very particular about their welfare. The Central and state governments have done a lot to ameliorate their woes.

Needless to say, the majority of them are small land holders. A chunk of them migrate to different parts of the country in search of work when they are done with farming. They return to their native places during the time of harvest. It is a compulsive journey they have to embark upon every year. They are also known as migrant workers. They don't own enough land to lead a life free from deficiencies. Less is talked about landless workers is better!

Except rich farmers, the majority of agriculturists are in the grip of recurring debt due to multiple reasons. One of them is the decreasing size of landholding and over dependence on farming for livelihood. As per the latest Agriculture Census, the average size of operational holdings in the country has decreased from 2.28 hectare in 1970-71 to 1.84 hectares in 1980-81. It further reduced to 1.41 hectare in 1995-96 and to 1.08 hectare in 2015-16. Considering the declining trends observed in the size of agriculture holdings in the past and the prospective increase in population over the years, the fragmentation of holdings is likely to continue and the average size of operational holdings is expected to further decrease in the country.

Thus, there are limited options before the policy makers to make farming a viable pursuit for small holders, who account for not less than 90 per cent of the country's farming community. It is true that the governments have taken several measures like adoption of modern technologies, multiple cropping, intercropping and integrated farming to prop up small and marginal farmers and augment their income but the desired results are far from being lucrative!

It is, therefore, high time to encourage small farmers to go for the cultivation of fruits and vegetables in a cooperative mode for better income and a positive, sustainable impact on the country's economy as well! Better market linkages and facilities for agro processing will act as a catalyst to motivate them to switch over to horticulture. At present, marketing of fruits and vegetables remains an arduous task for small growers. A report prepared by Emerson Climate Technologies India, a business of the US-based manufacturing and technology company Emerson, says that 18 per cent of India's fruit and vegetable production valued at Rs 13,300 crore is wasted annually and the two of the biggest reasons are the lack of refrigerated transport and high quality cold storage facilities for manufacturers and food sellers. They are dependent on local haats to sell their products which don't fetch them good prices.

As a result, marginal farmers are peripheral beneficiaries when the prices of vegetables and fruits shoot up in urban retail markets. It is a serious issue which needs to be addressed. Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) can do wonders. The Central government intends to form and promote 10,000 new FPOs till 2027-28 with a total budgetary outlay of Rs 6,865 crore. The formation and promotion of FPO is based on the produce cluster area approach and specialized commodity based approach. While adopting cluster based approach, formation of FPOs will be focussed on 'one district one product' for the development of product specialization.

As per the Evaluation Report of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on FPO component titled 'Impact Study 7 – Enhanced realization of agriculture produce marketed through PCs/FCSCs under Maharashtra Agricultural Competitiveness Project (MACP),' the sale through Farmer Producers Companies (FPCs) resulted in increased price realization by members by 22 per cent, while the incidence of cost of marketing was 31 per cent lower than other channels. As many as 28 per cent of members were found to have purchased inputs from producers companies, which resulted in net savings of Rs 1384 per acre.

These are positive signs but at the same time indicate the enormity of the task to be implemented across the country on the ground. Put in place a well oiled mechanism which takes care of fruits and vegetables from farm to fork. FPOs, food processing units, effective supply chains, all weather sale-purchase points, and hassle free payment modules for farmers will make the real difference.

It may appear to be a tall order but should be done to make small and marginal farmers financially resilient. Traditional crops of wheat, rice, cotton, maize, pulses and oilseeds won't help them a lot for want of their limited land holdings. Bigger farmers will continue to thrive but not smaller ones if they are not provided with an enabling atmosphere to switch over to fruits and vegetables cultivation which are sold at higher rates in retail markets.

The Union Budget 2022-23 had talked about chemical-free natural farming to be promoted throughout the country with a focus on farmers' lands in 5-km wide corridors along river Ganga at the first stage. To encourage millet cultivation, support will also be provided for post-harvest value addition, enhancing domestic consumption, and for branding millet products nationally and internationally. A rationalized and comprehensive scheme is likely to be mooted to increase domestic production of oilseeds to be implemented to reduce dependence on imports. The Central government has also promised a comprehensive package for fruits and vegetables growers. The idea is to motivate them to adopt suitable varieties of fruits and vegetables and use appropriate production and harvesting techniques. The government intends to provide a comprehensive package to them with the participation of the state governments. One should hope for the best!

(The writer is a senior journalist and author. The views are strictly personal)

Rajeev Ranjan Roy
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