Winner of a central award for excelling in foodgrain production, Madhya Pradesh has also claimed success in horticulture over the last three years, though some have questioned the figures cited.
One of the very few states where agriculture gets top billing, MP had organised a special session of the assembly in 2010 to find ways to make farming profitable for farmers. Bringing five lakh hectares more under horticulture crops by 2012-13 from the existing 8.55 lakh ha was one of the resolutions adopted at the end of the session that, incidentally, had been boycotted by the Congress questioning its rationale.
While adding more area, the state has boosted horticulture production two-and-a-half times, from 77.61 lakh tonnes three years ago to 1.79 crore tonnes in 2012-13, recording the highest increase in vegetable production as well as the area under cultivation. The area under vegetables has increased from 2.83 lakh hectares to 5.52 lakh, and production from 36.98 lakh tonnes to 1.08 lakh. States such as Maharashtra are still way ahead in terms of both acreage and production, and benefits from getting more funds under the National Horticulture Mission.
Floriculture, spices and fruits are other areas where the sector has grown and was helped in large measure by an increase in micro-irrigation facilities under the National Mission on Micro Irrigation. Close to 1.14 lakh farmers benefited between December 2006 and December 2012.
Since last year, the sale of horticulture produces has been exempted from payment of mandi tax. Earlier, private companies could buy horticulture produces only at mandis, an arrangement that did not favour either the farmer or the purchaser.
Arun Hajela and Haren Tiwari, officials at the state horticulture department, said the exemption encouraged farmers to grow horticulture crops because they no longer had to worry about produce rotting at the mandis. The exemption also saw processing units set up units.
The horticulture growth has been most visible in Indore and nearby areas where top quality potato, used in chips and fries, are grown. In Ratlam, for example, farmers have started growing enough grapes to sustain a winery.
“Since farmers are getting higher returns in comparison to traditional crops, they are getting attracted to horticulture. The trend has increased with the arrival of educated farmers. Also, consumption of vegetable and fruits has gone up with people becoming more aware about nutritious food,” says another senior officer of the horticulture department.
However, there are many in MP who find the exponential growth in acreage and production of horticulture a little hard to digest and allege that the figures are far removed from ground reality.
“It’s difficult to cross check the government figures but ground inputs don’t paint such a rosy picture,” says Sandeep Shrivastava, who is associated with the splinter group of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. “Though farmers are taking initiatives, infrastructure like cold chain or marketing channels to back their effort is missing in MP.”
With an average capacity of 5,000 tonnes, MP has about 160 cold storage facilities, much fewer than Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, but their number is increasing, thanks to government subsidy.
“Input cost for horticulture is much more and farmers often don’t get reasonable price,” says P Hasmukh Gandhi, secretary of M Cold Storage Association, adding the government’s optimism about horticulture is little misplaced.
The government has organised a three-day International Horti Expo 2013 at Bhopal from February 1 to make farmers aware of latest techniques available at national and international levels. Farmers, producers, experts and manufacturers in horticulture sector will take part in the meet, the first of its kind in the state.