India’s Horticulture Enters Fast Lane

Dr. S. Chandra
Dr. S. Chandra

Horticulture, one of the fastest growing in the country, holds a silver lining to the evergreen agriculture sector.  Notwithstanding the century scored by rice (100 million tonnes production in 2012) or the impending century likely to be scored by wheat, it is the golden revolution in fresh fruit and vegetable production which is the best thing to have happened in India during the last two decades.   

Horticulture contributes about 30  per cent  to India’s agriculture sector from  just about 14  per cent  of  area. It also contributes over 50  per cent  to the total  agri-exports. The growth rate of horticulture stands at an enviable 5 percent plus. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, taste and delicious juices, the fruits  are rated as the most important contributor to quality food and nutrition security.  This sub-sector provides much higher income per unit of land to the farmers than other farming options. Employment generation per unit of land under horticulture is about 3-4 times  more than that in agriculture.

Fruits are grown on an area of 6.8 million hectares with a production of 76.72 million tonnes in our country and vegetables are  grown  on  an  area  of  about 9.1  million  hectares  with a  production  of  162.5  million tonnes. Together, the fresh fruit and vegetable production of India is highest or second highest in the world for the last several years.   Export earnings from  fresh  and processed  fruits  and vegetables,  floriculture  products and  horticultural  seed  and planting material together amounted to around Rs 90 billion in 2011-12. 

Today, horticulture is heading into a fast lane.  The demand for high-value fresh and processed food commodities is increasing faster than other. The growth rates of fruits like banana, pomegranate, grapes, papaya, strawberry and the attention to fruit cultivation in semi-arid environments are pointers to a much faster growth and development that this sub-sector is likely to witness. The scenario for vegetable cultivation is also equally lucrative and has achieved success due primarily to the development of hybrid cultivars by public and the private sector R & D agencies, coupled with a price rise that provides ample opportunity to farmers to earn more in less time per unit land. These horticultural crops have contributed substantially to diversify the farming systems scenario as well as to enlarge and enhance the resource base of the farmer while at the same time reducing the risk factors in farming enterprise.

Food processing industry draws heavily on these commodities to produce and market attractive value added products.  The industry owes its double digit growth more to the success of horticulture crops than any other kind of raw materials. 

The accelerated growth of fruit and vegetable commodities, while often attributed to an enormous rise of the affluent middle class of urbanites and to massive urbanization itself, which has occurred in the last two decades, actually stems from highly effective technologies developed by the various R & D organizations as well as by industry. The credit must also go to the highly evolved, inquisitive, informed and enthusiastic orchardists and farmers who have made this an enviable enterprise,

Endowed with a vast diversity of agroclimatic conditions, India boasts of a huge variety of delicious fruits and vegetable.  Mango, banana, grapes, pomegranate , guava, throughout the country, apple, almond, walnuts and other stone fruit in the temperate zone, ber, aonla, date palm in the arid zone, cashew,  sapota, bael, custard apple, in the sub-humid and coastal areas provide unmatched  collection of fruit basket to the country which few other countries can match. 

Mango, the king of fruits is our national fruit. More than 50 percent of world mango production is contributed by India (12.7 million tonnes from 2.1 million hectare).  Uttar Pradesh tops in the productivity of mango (>10 t/ha) in India. India exported in 2011-12, 74 thousand tonnes of mango valued at over Rs 200 crores. More than 100 varieties of commercially marketed and preferred varieties of mango are brought to the market in the country. Dasheri, langra, chausa, in the north, Bainganpalli, Rimani, Totapari, Neelam, Bamglora in the south, Alphonso, Bombay green, Kesar, Malgoa in the west  and Baneshan, Kishanbhog, Gulabkhas in the east are some of the leading varieties.   Some new varieties have also been bred in recent times like Amrapali and Mallika which have become popular. Recently, four new hybrids released by IARI are claimed to be able to double the mango productivity in the country  These varieties are named as  Pusa Pratibha, Pusa Peetamber, Pusa Shreshth and Pusa Lalima. According to A K Singh, the new mango varieties are expected to yield 20 ton per hectare.  India produces around 15 million tons and exports around 60,000 tons to UAE, UK, US and Bangladesh.India earns around $35 million every year with the exports of the mangoes alone. Some technologies to help increase productivity, expand the area and provide support to processing industry have also been evolved.  Prior to export, in order to improve the shelf life and keeping quality of mango, ozone treatment has been found highly beneficial. Polybag cultivation in nursery after grafting is an innovative system.  In this system, the grafted hardened plants are not planted directly in the orchard, but are  allowed to continue maintenance growth in the polybag for one to one and a half years. This method minimizes cost of maintaining a planted orchard and alsos permit lower gestation period viz., it leads to earlier fruiting within 3 years after setting up the orchard instead of the normal about 5 years. 

High density (HD) planting of new mango orchards: Under  HD system the plant can kept as low as 5x5  or 5x6 for small canopy varieties (Iike totapuri)  and 7x7 to 7 x 8 for larger varieties (like Alphonso, Neelam, Rumani, Bainganpalli) as against the traditional layout of 8x 8 to 10x10  meters. While the fruit yield under traditional system is 6-7 t /ha, the HD system yielded 10 to 12 t/ha as early as in the 5th – 6th  year of commercial plantation.  The incremental yield can be attributed to increased fruit set, less fruit rop, betfer fruit growth better quality fruit, low harvesting and post harvest losses, and has also been reported to be useful in arresting alternate bearing habit of the mango plants.

High value Processing By-products: The mango processing industry has also been provided with technology to utilize the processing waste for developing such high value by products like enzymes, single cell proteins, pectin and fiber.

Guava : Essentially the kind of approach which has helped raise productivity of mango, has also been deployed to guava with a high degree of success. Also, a good success has been achieved in control of fruit fly by using methyl ugenol traps.

Citrus :  in the mid-1960s thrust was provided to sweet orange (Malta, Mausambi) and acid lime cultivation in a new niche, viz.,Punjab and eastern Rajasthan outside the traditional vidarbha belt where citrus has a dominant position . It worked very well in the beginning but there appeared a serious problem of ‘citrus decline’  which was attributed to a complex of disease, nutritional and agro-ecological disorders. Though it was a big setback, the development of the hybrid “Kinnow” variety has restored  some respectability to this new niche. There has also been a good promotional work done one expanding the mandarin cultivation in the vidarbha belt.  Acid lime var ”Samruddhi”  developed at Rahuri has excellent quality and productivity and can provide production of round the year. Promotion  and development of citrus based  processed products giving tough competition to synthetic western origin cola drinks by indigenous “shikanj” or” nimboo pani” is very much on the cards.

Papaya, though highly nutritious  is  a less  preferred  fruit in India but it has the highest  productivity among the fruit crops of India - an average close to 36 t / ha. This fruit has shown signs of growth in area, production and varietal adaptation particularly with more uniform and stable exotic varieties from Singapore and Taiwan. Resorting to contract cultivation, Jain Irrigation Limited produces best quality latex, papain and candies from papaya. India is today the second largest exporter of papain. The fruit is particularly beneficial to those afflicted with digestive problems and diabetes . Papaya has a fast pace production and income gains and thus offer great scope for its expansion in the country.  

India is the home of banana and this fruit is known to be grown here since vedic period. It is considered as an auspicious plant and has been referred to as ‘kalpataru’. At a country production level of about 26 million tonnes annually, It commands the highest share (31.7 %) of fruit production in the country. Maharashtra, Gujrat, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are the major growing states but the fruit spreads across the length and bredth of the country almost in every household.  Banana is the fastest growing fruit in the country, having increased in area by almost 100 % and in production by  about 245 % during the last two decades.  The interesting part is that while on the one hand, it suffers from a large number of disease and pest complexes, on the other year – round production of best quality fruit is being achieved for export purposes.

What has contributed to its spectacular growth ? 
The single most important factor is the large scale production of tissue culture (TC) plants  for commercial cultivation. The capacity for production of TC plants of best clones of banana variety Cavendish (viz., Grand Naine, Robusta ) in India is about 10 million annually. Most of these plants are also grown with best production technology like macro and micro nutrients INM, IPM, High Density Planting, drip irrigation and fertigation, and with  proper follow up at harvesting and post harvest value chain stakeholders. The drip and fertigation technologies reduce cost of cultivation by bringing the water use volume by 35 % and fertilizer use by  about 23 to 25 percent. Clones of Cavendish variety are popular in the country. Red banana is the most relished and highly prized variety of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In order to diversify the varietal scenario, indigenous varieties like K Red and Udhayam in Kerala and Bhat Manohar in Maharashtra have been developed with firm fruit pulp which has a longer shelf life and sweetness. These varieties provide better processed pulp products also. While the problem of at least 4 known viral diseases remains to be solved, solution to several important disease and insect pest problems have been found by controlled propagation of disease free plants from disease free mother stocks.    Covering of fruit bunches with polybag sleeves with 6 % aeration, and technology to store green banana with a shelf life of about 150 days has become popular. Technology for banana processed products has been standardized for banana jam, sauce, chips, health drink, flower thokku, candy, wine, and from the pseudostem, juice, fibre and fibre-waste glue for paper industry. 

Grape, an exotic fruit from Mediterranean region, is not only a delicious table fruit but it provides one of the best dry fruit products – raisins, which in turn has a wide array of applications. It is also yields the famous quality wines popular in every nook and corner of the world. Wines are not just the intoxicants that they are made to look like, but are actually a healthy drink for the mankind. Thanks to the good work done by the Indian scientists in developing grape varieties suited to different agroclimatic conditions across the country, as also to the promotional work done on infrastructure building India exports table grapes worth Rs 1200 crores annually.

 Table varieties grown widely in India are: Thompson Seedless and its mutants like Tas – A – Ganesh, Sonaka and Manik Chaman and A 17/3; colored seedless varieties like Fantasy Seedless, Sharad Seedless and Crimson Seedless; seeded varieties like Red Globe for central India, Gulabi, Bangalore Blue (Juice purpose) along with above varieties for southern India and Beauty seedless, Flame seedless, Pearlette in Northern India.  Most exported varieties are Thomson seedless,TAS A Ganesh, Sonaka, A 17/3 (green seedless) and Flame seedless Sharad and Fantasy (colored seedless). New varieties with potential for export are Italia (green seeded) for table purpose andTas-A-Ganesh. Manik Chaman, Arkavati and Cardiinal are mainly used for raisin production. White Wine Varieties are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Chardony, Clairette found promising and being utilized by commercial wineries in the country.

Red Wine Varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon , Shiraz, Merlot, Zinfendel, Pinot Noir while other Wine Varieties: are Grenache, Convent Large Black, Carignane, Prince, Saperav.

India  is a rapidly emerging wine economy in terms of both production and consumption. The slopes of the Sahayadri mountain range which forms the 'Western Ghats' have been identified as the most suitable place for viticulture, due to high altitudes and a correspondingly mild-macroclimate. Some of the areas in the north-east are also attracting attention due to their high location and cooler climates. Contemporary vineyard practices, ranging from top-class soil and canopy management to a wide range of trellising methods, are used to combat the climatic extremes. India's low level of wine production contrasts with its total grape output of around 1.7m tons per year -  only about 10% going to the production of wine. India exports about 11 lakh bottles worth about 170 crores of rupees every year.

An excellent piece of promotional work has been done by the government in favour of grapes is that huge infrastructural support has been provided in terms of pack houses, cool transportation,  production protocols aimed at export and back up referral lab support. R & D work on rootstock management has yielded a very good rootstock material Dog ridge” which promises to stabilize the orchard longevity and productivity.

Pomegranate, a native of land extending from western Himalayas to Mediterranean  area . Its cultivation in India has increased from 96.9 k ha (2003-04) to112.2 k ha (2011-12). Maharashtra is leading state in acreage and accounts for73.08 percent of the total area of the country, growing to about 82 k ha in 2011-12 from a mere 4.6 k ha on 1990-91.  The growth of pomegranate has recently assumed rapid strides and is triggered by both high prices in domestic market as well as its therapeutic value and a health supplement.

  However, India occupies third position in terms of global export share (13.89%) after Turkey(39.73%) and Iran (27.68%).  Protocol for export of pomegranate from an orchard to export destination including information on 'Pesticides recommended for the their maximum residue limit (MRL) and pre harvest interval (PHI), Anarnet is an internet based electronic service offered by the APEDA  to stakeholders forf acilitating testing and certification of pomegranate fruits for export from India to European Union in compliance with (NRCP Solapur) standards. AllIndia  Bacterial blight (Xanthomonas sp),  IPR regimes(patenting for India),  Unavailability of disease free planting material,  limited availability of post harvest handling and care mechanism are major constraints Pomegranate Growers Research Association has been formed for the benefit of all the stakeholders. Pomegranatee has excellent cultivars like Bhagwa, Mridula, Arakta and Ganesh to ensure supplies throughout  the year. For the first time graft success of 84 per cent was recorded in cvs. Mridula (rootstock) and Ganesh (scion) combination through wedge grafting (Plate3) done during December-January at Solapur. Double and triple stem training system better foe optimum height than single stem system that helps provide thick canopy.  Application of   K-feldspar and fungal strain (pinophilum) has helped INM. Organic compost and green manuring increased yields also. To enhance export, increasing production of exportable quality fruits and providing post handling facilities are required. India is quite competitive due to multiple flowering season in different states and can export during Dec to March and even upto june july when competition is minimal. Expand pomegranate cultivation  to non-traditional potential areas having marginal and degraded lands.

Pomegranate use increased many fold in recent times as fruit and its juice are well known for antioxidant properties and in possible prevention of cancers of different tissues and organs. Several processed products viz. Pomegranate juice,wine and tea are found to be very high value products in the International market particularly due totheir  neutraceutical properties. Developing new varieties for these applications is also assuming great significance.

Fruit of the dryland areas:  For India, the horticulture story is incomplete without its array of dryland fruits like ber, datepalm, custard apple,  jamun, aonla, many of which are proven rejuvenants and exceptional nutrition supplements like jamun for diabetes, aonla for body immunity against environmental and ageing factors, bael for dysentery or diarrhoea. 

Aonla one of the nature’s wonder crops, with abundant quantities of Vit C and Vit A as well as antioxidants became very popular with India’s farmers about two decades ago, but faded soon afterwards due to price crash. Its many uses include products like fortified health supplements, hair care products and rejuvenants / anti-depressants. Varieties like NA 6, NA7, Chaikiya and Goma Aishwarya pushed its cultivation from a mere 10 thousand ha in 1996 to 70 thousand ha in 2004 though it has stagnated after that. 

Custard apple  Varieties: Pink Mammoth is a huge custard apple with an outstanding taste, sweet and melting flavour. This variety of custard apple is renowned for possessing almost no seeds.  African Pride:  African Pride is a ten feet tall tree,  fruit has more seeds than pinks mammoth and yields are quite high. Late Gold: This is a stunning golden bronze custard apple with a soft skin. It is quite rare but exclusive.   Geffner is an Israeli variety of the custard apple with an exceptionally amazing taste.  Besides, there are several unnamed indigenous varieties popularly grown in the country side of India.

Custard apple is an ideal snack and/or dessert for those who wish to put on some weight. A calorie-laden fruit, the sugars present in it make peps up the metabolic rate, thus, stimulating the appetite levels. It can help you gain weight. Custard Apple is full of vitamin C anti-oxidants, which helps to combat many diseases and also enhances the immune system. The paste of the flesh of custard apple is beneficial to treat boils, abscesses and ulcers. The dried crushed parts of custard apple are good in curing of diarrhoea and dysentery. Eating custard removes expectorants.

Ber is another  popular fruit of the arid regions and its varieties like Gola, Umran, seb, Goma kirti, Thar Sarika and Thar Bhubraj are grown extensively giving the farmers a fairly decent livelihood in desolate areas.

Fruit and vegetable cultivation is becoming a household acivity due to unaffordable prices for many a middle income family. There is thus a need to address the  second  generation  problem  of  urban  and  peri-urban  horticulture. This calls for genetic enhancement and field pheno- typing of  horticultural  crops,  root stock breeding and grafting technology for important environmental stress (heat, drought, flooding, etc.) tolerance.

On the field scale, new hybrid varieties like Pusa Pratibha, Pusa Peetamber, Pusa Shreshth and Pusa Lalima are expected to yield 20 ton per hectare, which will open up doors for larger exports to UAE, UK, US and

For the industry, protocols for In vitro enhancement of secondary metabolite production of phytochemicals have to be standardized. Integrated intelligent risk-and-disaster management production systems (such as early warning systems, drought indicators, migratory movement of bio-risk agents, give thrust on enhancing the use efficiency of these inputs, etc.)

Effective Technology transfer systems,  management of energy optimised production,  permissive environment and emergence of farmers as  agri-business stakeholders (far-reaching, participatory information and communication technology, live analytical and animated would be evolved by optimizing print and electronic delivery) and the power of innovative technology in production as well as processing will help this sector to grow at a rapid pace in the near future.


Dr. S. Chandra, Director,
Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals, New Delhi

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