India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, largest producer and consumer of cashew nut, tea and spices, third largest producer of coconut, fourth largest producer and consumer of rubber and sixth largest producer of coffee in the world. Today, horticulture in India, as a consequence of several dynamics like focused research, active technological and policy initiatives, accessible high efficiency inputs, etc. has become a sustainable and viable venture for farmers particularly the small and marginal farmers.
India has witnessed sharper increase in acreage in horticultural crops compared to food grains over the last 15 years and the area under horticultural crops increased by 54% from 16.2 m ha in 2001-02 to 24.94 m ha in 2015-16 compared to an expansion of area under food grains by around 1.28%. At present, India is producing 295.31 million tones of horticultural produce from an area of 24.94 m ha and production is growing at a compound growth rate of 5.65% since this century. As per the economic survey 2015-16 report, the percentage share of horticultural output in agriculture is more than 33% and the share of plan outlay for horticulture, which was 3.9% during IX Plan, has increased to 4.6% during the XII Plan.
I have no doubt in my mind that research contribution by NARS system is one of the factors responsible for this momentous growth in horticulture. The research work carried out in the Council during the last five decades has paid rich dividends in terms of release of more than 250 varieties/hybrids in fruits, vegetables, ornamental crops, tuber crops, spices and plantation crops, mushroom, etc. Some of the important fruit varieties like Mallika and Amrapali mango, vegetable varieties viz., triple resistant variety Arka Manik of watermelon, yellow vein mosaic virus resistant Arka Anamika of okra, high yielding French bean variety Arka Komal and PKM variety of drumstick have spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Kashi Pragati in okra, Kashi Kanchan in cowpea and Kashi Anmol in chilli are the most successful varieties adopted by the growers of Eastern Uttar Pradesh with a record 20% increase in productivity. First ever heat tolerant potato variety Kufri Surya for extending cultivation to warmer climate is an example of how the Council is addressing the issue of climate change.
Many hybrids like Arka Kiran-a red pulp hybrid in guava; Ambika-a regular bearing mango hybrid having yellow colour with red blush; Udhayam, a hybrid plantain variety tolerant to low temperatures; Arka Rakshak-a triple resistant tomato hybrid; onion variety Arka Kalyan and hybrids Arka Meghana in Chilli; Arka Anand in brinjal; Arka Suvidha in French bean; Arka Prajwal in tuberose; and Jawahar in Aswagandha, a variety that has recorded highest dry- root yield in medicinal crops; are among few important released varieties/hybrids, which have made significant impact on production and enhanced economic gains. In tuber crops, high starch (33-34%) and high yielding (38-39 tlha) triploid cassava varieties Sree Athulya and Sree Apoorva were released for growing in industrial belt of major cassava growing states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In cashew, NRCC Sel-1, NRCC Sel-Z and Bhaskara were released as high yielding cashew varieties.
ICAR has developed a large number of sustainable production, protection and post-harvest management technologies for higher yield and better quality" in horticultural crops. Technology for high density planting of mango, banana and pineapple, is being practiced by majority of fruit growers. A high density orchard system for apple and almond has also been developed. In cashew, the results showed that high density planting of cashew resulted in 2.5-folds higher yield over conventional method. Grape rootstock identified by the IIHR, Bengaluru has revolutionized grape cultivation in dry land and problematic soils. Technology for foliar nutrition of micro nutrients viz., banana special, mango special for higher yields and quality is well appreciated by the farmers. The Council has developed bio fertilizers like PSB, Azospirillum, VAM, ete. and microbial consortium, which contributed significantly towards better soil nutrient uptake, improving plant health, and faster composting of leaf litter.
Other important challenging aspect in horticulture addressed by the Council, is the management of pests and diseases, which cause substantial loss to the farmers. Portable dipstick kits for detection of five major potato viruses at field level, duplex PCR detection kits for tomato bigomo virus and big bud phytoplasma, Molecular technology for virus diagnosis in banana, diagnostics tools for CTV, ICRVS, CMBV, CEVD and greening in citrus, pheremone traps for mango fruit fly and melon flies, etc., have greatly benefited the farmers. Many farmer and environment- friendly plant protection technologies like microbial bio-control agents, use of plant botanicals and plant products, biopesticide formulation Menma from cassava leaf for management of banana pseudo -stern weevil, a novel delivery method of biocontrol agents through encapsulation in spice crops, were developed and extensively used by the farmers across the country.
Primary or secondary horticultural crops not only provide income security to farmers but also ensure employment of available labour effectively. In this direction many crop based combinations developed by various research institutes have proved to be very useful for farmers and act as a complementary role in doubting the farmers' income. Intercropping in mango with pineapple as well as intercropping cashew with pineapple, turmeric and amorphophallus are found compatible and profitable. Various multi-storeyed cropping system under arid ecosystem viz., aonla- ber- brinjal, aonla- bael- karonda; aonla- khejri- suaeda- moth bean- mustard, etc are also found to be sustainable and remunerative to the farmers. Rice-black gram-short duration cassava crop sequence over sole cassava is also recommended.
The Council through its institutes maintains a wealth of varied collection of germplasm comprising fruits, vegetables, floriculture, spices, plantation and tuber crops, reflecting the considerable genetic biodiversity that included potential sources of resistance to various biotic and abiotic stresses as well as high nutritional and medicinal values and quality traits. IIHR, Bengaluru has a collection of 9,418 germplasm in fruits, vegetables, ornamental and medicinal crops. Central Institute for Arid Horticulture, Bikaner has a collection of 2,400 germ plasm and National Research Centre for Citrus, Nagpur, has 614 exotic and indigenous accessions.
Still, there are many challenges such as shrinking of arable lands, increased demand for horticultural crops, concerns of safe and pesticide-free food availability, climate changes, invasive pests, and deterioration of soil and plant health system, etc. Further, the dynamic production problems, volatile marketing conditions and developing technologies for value addition and processing to minimize the post-harvest loss are the other challenging issues facing horticultural research.
Horticulture holds promise for scientists and farmers as the productivity of many horticultural crops is less than potential yield and world average. India has more than 12.86 million ha of cultivable wasteland and many horticultural crops which have lesser demands on water and other inputs can be used to grow horticultural crops. At present lesser than 2% of horticultural produce is being processed and there is tremendous scope to increase to the targeted level of ten percent. Horticulture as per estimates can provide direct employment for 7.7 million people and indirect employment for 30.0 million.
To maintain horticulture sector as a prominent segment under agriculture requires continuous efforts both from research and development. The present area-led growth may not sustain for long as cropped area is limited. Hence, emphasis should shift towards productivity-led growth. This calls for dissemination of existing technologies and making available of required technologies and technical know-how. The unceasing efforts shall continue to address dynamic complexities of production and protection environment of the horticultural cultivation. Development of varieties/hybrids to address the multi dimensional pest! disease issues is a focus area in horticulture as this not only brings down crop loss, but also greatly helps farmers in reducing costs, and ensures supply of safe or less pesticide-residue produce to consumers.