Horticulture is an important segment for boosting the overall agricultural sector in India. Dr. Prodyut Kumar Paul, Dean, Faculty of Horticulture and Professor, Pomology and Post-Harvest Technology, Uttar Banga Krishi Viswavidyalaya, spoke to BE’s Kuntala Sarkar regarding the growth of the sector.
Q. How is your institution placed in researching ways to increase horticulture productivity? Mention a few ongoing research projects.
A. The research mandate of our university mostly focuses on alleviating problems of local farmers. As horticulture crops are being predominantly cultivated in this region, most of our research projects work for enhancement of horticultural productivity. We also try out possibilities of introducing horticulture crops in the agro-forestry system. Integrated nutrient management, integrated pest management, organic cultivation, protected cultivation, off-season cultivation, climate-resilient horticulture, value addition, and post-harvest management are some of the research areas on which we work.
Q. Development of resilient seeds is important for the horticulture sector. What is the role of your institute in such seed development?
A. Seeds or planting materials of highest purity is the prime requirement in the horticulture sector. Availability of quality planting materials through certified nurseries is one of the major issues that is holding back this sector. Production of hybrid seeds and supply of certified seeds, particularly those of vegetables, is one of the focus areas of our university. Supply of tissue culture planting materials of high value horticultural crops to the end user is also an important activity. We are setting up a floricultural hub that would demonstrate planting material production, cut-flower production, and post-harvest management at a commercial level.
Q. Do you think that proper focus on horticultural development and enhancing the market linkage of horticultural products can ease the current agrarian distress in India?
A. This is an area that needs careful attention. Horticultural crops, being perishable, need a fast moving supply chain with controlled atmospheric parameters (temperature, humidity and air composition) throughout the supply chain. Entrepreneurs should take up the challenge of market linkage. Definitely, it is easier said than done. But then, it is probably the only way to take a stride into the horticulture sector. In recent years, a number of graduate from IITs, IIMs and even from foreign universities are entering the agricultural sector with overwhelming success. They find opportunity in this missing link of the horticultural sector and apply their entrepreneurship principles to do good for themselves and for the farmers that they take on board. At this point, I am of the opinion that the curricula for horticultural graduates must include more courses on business and entrepreneurship principles so that we produce more of tailor-made technocrats for taking the sector forward.
Q. As a university of agricultural sciences, do you popularise horticultural cultivation among rural agriculturalists?
A. We do popularise horticulture among farmers of the region through farmers’ training and demonstration on aspects of good agricultural practices, nursery management, nutrient management, organic cultivation and certification, postharvest management, value addition, secondary agriculture, integrated farming systems etc. We are also taking up a good number of technology dissemination projects focussing on livelihood security through appropriate modification of technologies for maximising adoption.
Q. Flowers and fruits grown in the Indian subcontinent have high export value. Is there any plan to develop low cost packaging and preserving mechanism that will enhance the export viability of Indian horticultural products?
A. Truly speaking, this has been the biggest issue. Unfortunately, many a times, the quality of horticultural produce from the Indian sub-continent has failed to comply with the stringent standards of the international market. Unless we focus on good agricultural practices to handle the SPS agreement, quarantine requirements and problems of chemical residue, we are not going to harness the export potential of flower, fruits and spices to the fullest. We are carrying out research on development of a packaging solution that is environment friendly and cost effective. In-package ethylene management for enhancing shelf-life is one of the major focus areas of our research endeavour. We have developed and validated a number of technologies for value addition and preservation of niche crops that include fruits, flower and spices.
Q. What is the major bottleneck of the Indian horticultural sector in the domestic and international market?
A. Horticulture has to move from a mere agricultural practice to horti-business. This necessitates a change in the mind-set of policy makers. Few challenges that must be addressed are non-availability of quality planting materials, poor postharvest infrastructure, market linkage and stringent quality norms of the international market. Small and fragmented land holding is also a major bottleneck for speeding up development of the horticulture sector. Any policy to alleviate these issues must consider the fact that our farmers are resource-starved and mostly, small land-holders.