India has enough to feed its population of 125 crore. The country used to grow fruits and vegetables on 65 per cent of the total arable land, and it has different types of climate and soil to produce a large quantity of high-quality fruits and vegetables. But, it produces only 165 million metric tonnes of vegetables and 85 million metric tonnes of fruits a year, and India accounts for just 1 per cent of the world market. And, it exports fruits and vegetables worth only Rs 7,500 crore.
So, where are we going wrong? Why can't we be world leaders? We have the land, climate and manpower, and, once upon a time, we were only organic. Now, over a period of time, we have lost out to pesticides and fertilisers. The world has gone back to organic farming and we pay four or five times the price for organic produce. There is a growing demand for top-quality produce and we have to encourage the farmers, give them knowledge and show them the way forward to ensure that they can make good money growing fruits and vegetables.
While encouraging the farmers, we have to assure them that their quality produce has many takers. The supply chain has to be improved and the middlemen have to be kept out. Imagine, an onion grower gets only Rs 2 a kilo while the consumer has to shell out Rs 80 at times.
It is extremely vital to provide our farmers with water and electricity, along with care during and after harvest. And, even if nature sometimes fails us, we should have greenhouses for continuous supply. This requires a lot of money and hence, the private sector has to play a major role. It should be a priority to have a cold chain supply to carry the produce in its freshest form. India is the largest producer of okra and ginger, and probably the second largest producer of potato, onion, cauliflower, brinjal and cabbage. Yet, the export is limited to a few countries and quite a few countries reject our products on one pretext or another.
The authorities need to be strict on quality control. Anyone who watches documentaries on how vegetables are grown, cleaned and sold in India will definitely not be impressed. The market in India is being flooded with imported apples, grapes and exotic fruits. Our focus should be on homegrown quality products and only the fruits we cannot produce should be brought in. We have to encourage farmer markets and improve packaging and hygiene if we want to be the leaders and want acceptability from the world.