The horticulture sector, that encompasses a wide range of crops from fruits to plantation crops and flowers, accounts for more than thirty percent of the total agriculture output in India. Over the last few years, the sector has gained prominence by contributing a growing share in GVA of the agriculture and allied sectors. The Indian horticulture area has grown by more than 2.6% per annum, whereas it has witnessed an annual production growth by more than 4.8% over a decade.
The sector has established its credibility in improving farmer’s income and has generated employment along with large-scale exports. It has become one of the major drivers of growth in the agriculture sector. The growing cultivation of horticultural crops has made India the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables globally.
As a result of proven commercial benefits, India is producing many varieties of high-yielding horticultural crops and is building the required storage & marketing infrastructure facilities for fruits, vegetables and flowers. To meet the steadily rising demand of premium quality fruits and vegetables, the production-for-export has grown rapidly in India. Measures are being undertaken to strengthen the export-production base, upgrade technology and improve the competitiveness of horticultural products in the global markets.
Despite India being one of the largest producers of the horticulture crops, Indian farmers face various challenges to increase the yield output. The small segregated farms with low per-hectare yields are one of the major challenges for the Indian horticulture sector. Additionally, India stores only two percent of its horticulture products in temperature-controlled conditions, whereas China stores 15 percent and Europe stores 85 percent of its products in such facilities.
Moreover, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional supply-chain disruption for the horticulture farmers. Even though the farmers have adequate production, the logistical challenges have created a roadblock for fruits and vegetables to reach urban consumers. While progressive Farmers/ FPOs have ventured to utilize the budding digitalization to reach the urban consumer directly through app and delivery capabilities, the marginal farmers are yet to gain the benefits out of the ‘new normal’ technology adaptations. The COVID pandemic will be a strong motivator and catalyst for many to start or continue digitizing in order to make it better accessible in the future by opening their inventory to consumers for pickup and delivery as a way to reconcile this supply and demand issue.
Another important aspect that needs to be understood is that for sustainable production of horticultural crops in the future, efficient use of water and nutrients along with balanced use of agrochemicals would be paramount that demands technological innovations. One of such technologies, which need to be mandatorily adopted while growing horticulture crops, is the adoption of micro-irrigation practices like drip irrigation systems.
Drip irrigation systems have a proven ability to increase productivity by utilizing an optimal quantity of water and fertilizers. According to the Economic Survey, 2020, the implementation of micro-irrigation systems has increased the water-saving by almost 50% and caused significant growth in the crop yields. Looking at these successful results, the Government aims to cover an additional 2 million-hectare Agri land under Drip irrigation systems per annum.
Adequate and timely availability of water is one of the most pertinent issues that horticultural production is facing at present. Over the past few years, we have seen that many regions in India are facing extreme water scarcity. Hence, we need to drive the adoption of micro-irrigation systems in mission-mode. Indian farmers are willing to take up any technology that brings the certainty of revenue in their life and adds economic value. Drip irrigation excels on both these fronts. Drip has visible and vast benefits, and this needs extensive propagation.
In addition of increased production, the Drip-irrigation system also reduces the input cost and improves the quality of the crop produce. There are enough case studies that highlight the benefit of Drip to the farmers. One such case study was conducted under Pradhan Mantri Krishi SichaiYojna (PMKSY) by Government which concluded the following benefits
· Almost 80-90% increase in water-use efficiency
· ~ 30% of saving in electricity cost per hectare (due to reduced hours)
· 30% saving in fertilizer consumption
· Almost 50% increase in productivity
· All above resulting in boosting farmer income by more than 40%
Agriculture and in particular, the horticulture sector have always been full of uncertainties and climate-change is adding more complexities to it. Uneven distribution of rainfall, droughts, floods and resultant water-stress has caused multiple challenges for Indian farmers to make horticulture climate-resilient and profitable. Therefore, an adaptation of micro-irrigation becomes the need of the hour which has an ability to tackle the country’s twin challenge of water scarcity and increasing crop yield at a macro level.