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Horticulture has the potential to improve the income of small and marginal farmers. But there is a lot more that can be done to improve, stated experts during the webinar titled ‘The emerging wealth generator in farming is vegetables and fruit’. This webinar was organised by the Free Press Journal and SIES in association with NSE, NCDEX Investor (Client) Protection Fund Trust, and East-West Seed.

The panellists for this webinar were (in alphabetical order) Narendra Dhandre, DGM, Netafim; Pankaj Maheshwari, VP – Food and Water Division – India – the Middle East and Africa, Alfa Laval; K E Muthu, Commercial Lead, Seminis Vegetable Seeds, South Asia & South-East Asia, Bayer; Dilip Rajan, MD, East-West Seed; and Dr Omveer Singh, MD, NDDB Dairy Services.

Since Independence, India has achieved a lot due to the active participation of both the public sector and then the private sector, stated Omveer Singh at the webinar. He said, “While India’s population has grown from 35 crore to 135 crore since Independence, our horticulture production has grown seven-folds in terms of volume and value. Both the public sector and the private sector have done a great job in developing and transferring technology to the farmers. Agriculture can be used as a tool for the economic development of rural masses.”

Commenting about small and marginal farmers, Dilip Rajan, MD, East-West Seed said, “Small-holder farmers are vital for Indian agriculture today, particularly after COVID-19 — for the revival of India and its rural economy. Smallholder farmers form 80 per cent of Indian farmers. They carry the disproportionate burden today to feed our nation.” Meanwhile, K E Muthu stated that around 20-50 million farmers will be involved in horticulture in the country.

Muthu affirmed, “Horticulture farming is and will be a wealth generator. Our vegetable production has been growing at 4.6 per cent CAGR during the last 13 years, which is quite substantial.” This growth must be compared to the 2.6 per cent growth in agriculture. He credited the private and public sector for their innovations which enabled this level of growth.

Adding to it, Narendra Dhandre said, “Every year we (Netafim) are covering more than a lakh hectares of land with micro-irrigation in India. Thus, it contributes to saving inputs and also generates employment opportunities to farmers.” He revealed that one hectare of fruit and vegetable cultivation gives employment to at least 10 people throughout the year. He added that horticulture will be vital to absorb the reverse migration that has taken place in rural India. He added, “Using the technologies we offer – namely drip irrigation – India can provide more employment. This will drastically increase the production of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, we are saving a lot of water.”

Maheshwari stressed on the need for India to improve food processing. He asserted, “China is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables. China processes around 24 per cent of its produce while India processes around 2 per cent. This is the difference despite India being the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables. We export fresh fruits, concentrate and puree worth USD 2,000 million and China exports processed foods worth USD 15,000 million.” He went on to state that there is a need to look at agriculture as a business sector and not as a welfare sector. “The farmer is not producing to feed the country but to generate income from that activity.”

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