After paddy, the fruit and vegetable surplus
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Glut, price crash, anger. The situation repeats itself every year that Punjab's kinnows and potatoes see a bumper harvest. More than half of Punjab's total fruit and vegetable production of 50 lakh tonnes comprises the two crops. While 57 per cent of its 14 lakh tonnes annual production of fruits comprises kinnows, potatoes make up 64 per cent of its 36 lakh tonnes vegetable production. But the state exports merely 1,000 quintals of its total fruit and vegetable production of 50 lakh tonnes.
After preparing a vision paper on its ambitious crop diversification programme, the state is now trying to figure out how to market its surplus. Of the 12 lakh hectares it intends to move away from paddy, a crop that at present covers 28 lakh hectares, Punjab aims to bring the biggest shift of four lakh hectares towards maize. To begin with, the Parkash Singh Badal government has amended the contract farming laws to ensure farm-gate purchase by making buying of the produce binding so that maize growers get remunerative prices and prospective maize-processing entrepreneurs an assured supply.
The state's Rs-5,000-crore diversification plan also aims at increasing the area under fruits, vegetables and pulses by one lakh hectares. For a state where big farmers are able to market kinnows and potatoes to other states and neighbouring countries but smaller growers are forced to dispose of them at prices prevailing in local mandis, the bet has to be hedged through assured marketing.
"The per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables in India was less than 3 kg in the early '90s. It has grown to 4 kg in recent years. So fruits and vegetables will fetch better prices to farmers. But farmers can reap this benefit only if there are assured buyers and adequate post-harvest infrastructure," says Dr M S Sidhu, head of economics and sociology at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana.