Nearly a third of fruits and vegetables go waste for lack of post-harvesting facilities. The annual loss is Rs 2 lakh crore,a nationwide study estimates.
About 30 per cent of vegetables and fruits produced in the country is rendered unfit for consumption due to spoilage after harvesting,according to a study whose findings come amid the debate over alleged hoarding by traders and the skewed economics of the onion crop.
The country produced around 77 million tonnes fruits and 150 million tonnes vegetables in 2011-12,out of a total horticultural production of 257.28 million tonnes. The annual post-harvest loss of these highly perishable commodities is estimated to be Rs 2 lakh crore due to lack of food processing units and modern cold storage facilities,says Associated Chamber of Commerce (ASSOCHAM).
The government admits horticulture needs more attention and has taken some steps over the last few years but they have apparently not been enough to address wastage.
The area under horticulture has increased from 16.6 million hectares in 2001-02 to 23.24 million hectares in 2011-12 with a corresponding increase in production from 145.8 million tonnes to 257.28 million and in productivity from 8.8 tonnes per hectare to 11.1. Thus,the study says,the growth in area (40.1 per cent),production (76.5 per cent) and productivity (26 per cent) from 2001-02 to 2011-12 suggests horticulture is likely to play a significant role in development of agriculture in the near future.
The study says the magnitude of post-harvest losses in fruits and vegetables can be minimised with proper cultural operations,harvesting,transportation,storage and pre- and post-harvest treatments.
According to the National Centre for Cold Chain Development,a government entity set up as part of the effort to address storage issues,the total cold storage capacity in the country (in 2012) was 30.1 million metric tonnes,which is only 12.9 per cent of the total fruits and vegetable produced.
This capacity is restricted mainly to wholesale markets or in their neighbourhood,but a major volume of fruits and vegetables is sold in local or regional markets that dont have such facilities,leading to the huge wastage.
Managing director of National Horticulture Board Rajendra Kumar Tiwari says the National Horticulture Mission will be strengthened under the 12th five-year plan. Besides budgetary support,the government is focusing on post harvest management.
During the 11th five-year plan period,cold storage facilities increased by 8 to 9 million tonnes,most of it in the last three to four years. The additional requirement is 36.82 million tonnes.
West Bengal is a leader in horticulture,accounting 10.5 per cent of production,followed by Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh with 9.6 per cent each and Tamil Nadu with 8.9 per cent. Madhya Pradesh ranks ninth with a 5.5 per cent share.
Many politicians in Delhi have blamed Madhya Pradesh for wreaking havoc on the onion prices because a central team during a visit to Shajapur had stumbled upon godowns full of onions. Officials in the states horticulture department found a touch of irony in the allegation. Three to four years ago,even the suggestion that MP can manipulate onion prices would have been dismissed. Not only MP did not produce enough onions,it did not have cold storage facilities either.
Things have,however,changed for the better over the last few years. People did not know what cold storage was. A scheme,now discontinued,to promote cold storage increased the capacity but the state still has a long way to go, says deputy director (horticulture) M L Hirwan.
ASSOCHAMs secretary general D S Rawat says MP alone incurs annual losses of over Rs 5,300 crore due to significant dearth of on-farm processing facilities. About losses across major states,Rawat says the projected production of fruits and vegatables would only cater to domestic demand,leaving no scope for growth in imports. Exports of fresh mangoes,onions and grapes have declined between 13 and 24 per cent in the last few years.
Apart from the lack of basic infrastructure such as cold chains,the report identifies among other problems the absence of good refrigeration systems in vehicles used for transporting bulk raw fruits and vegetables to markets; the scattered nature of production,sometimes in isolated places; and a long marketing channel with many intermediaries in the supply chain.
The report has suggested strengthening the cluster-based approach horticulture clusters are developed as the source for raw material in terms of dovetailing of various programmes and schemes to ensure better connectivity to consumption centres. Other suggestions include development of a post-harvest management infrastructure,a scheme for long-distance bulk transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables; enabling the food processing industry to approach the producer directly; and development of an export support infrastructure.