Tuesday, September 9, 2008


According to nutritional experts daily consumption of 4-8 cups of fruits and vegetables can ward off many avoidable health problems and in almost all national diet recommendations this guidelines are enshrined. But there are many practical problems in realizing this objective, except in case of a few while leaving a vast majority vulnerable to default on this account.

The recommended daily consumption when translated into weight works out to about500-600 g of fruits and vegetables a day per person. On a national scale the requirement is estimated at 550 to 660 million tons per year for a population of 1.1 billion in India. It is unlikely that a production of this magnitude is achievable in the foreseeable future in spite of the Rs 15000 crore horticultural mission of the Government of India (GOI) launched last year. Assuming that the country is able to rise to this demand, the gross maldistribution, enormous wastage due to the high perishability of these crops, seasonal nature of production and wide disparity in the purchasing power prevalent to day, all make it impossible to attain the objective.

Extent of wastage is a debatable point with widely varying estimates ranging between 20% and 40%, no body being wiser to the real situation prevailing at different stages of growing, harvesting, storing, preserving, distribution and consumption. With a grossly underdeveloped infrastructure for low temperature storage at the production points, transport carriers, cold storage, processing units, retail outlets and consumer end, a substantial quantity must be getting spoiled making them unsafe for consumption. The pioneering F & V Project of NDDB in early eighties in Delhi region in organizing cooperative production and scientific handling and distribution of fruits and vegetables could not be replicated elsewhere in the country very successfully. Increasing attention from private corporates like Reliance and some of the organized retailers may alleviate the situation to some extent but not to any dramatic extent. 
Fruits and vegetables are rich in many nutrients including vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, flavanoids, anthocyanins and many photochemical found to be useful in preventing many illnesses and there is no substitute to them in the diet. High cost and limited availability make it difficult to inculcate the habit of consuming vegetables from early childhood and this leads to increasing alienation of the youngsters from these protective foods. It is a sad reality that fruits are sold at prices in the range of Rs 35-120 per kg and exotic ones like strawberry commands  astronomical prices, leaving only papaya and banana to the poor. As for vegetables being seasonal in nature, there are wide fluctuations in the prices and limited facilities for long term storage restrict their availability drastically. Poor are left with only minor leafy vegetables, about a dozen in number, sold by the road side vendors cheaply. It is a matter of conjecture
whether consuming leafy vegetables every day has any adverse health impact as they are implicated in formation of kidney stones. 
Is India condemned to be a country with no capability to protect its population from malnutrition especially with regard to fruits and vegetables? Can horticultural mission accomplish the task of dramatically increased production and equitable distribution? Will the opening up of the agricultural produce marketing to private players worsen the situation by way of uncontrolled cost escalation?. These are questions that will have to be addressed by the planners in the country.
One of the possibilities that can be considered is whether an incentive scheme can be thought of for encouraging urban dwellers with some spare land to go in for production of vegetables, at least for self consumption so that pressure in the fresh produce market is reduced to some extent. At a local level the town municipalities can be entrusted with administering a scheme that will offer reduced property taxes to those registered for vegetable growing projects. The rain harvesting schemes so successfully implemented in some states is an example that can be considered for vegetable growing also. Building cold storage in fresh produce marketing areas will enable growers from the rural areas to spread their selling season significantly. As suggested in an earlier report in this blog, some sort of urban-rural alliance can tie up the growers with the urban dwellers for mutual benefits. If India is not to become a sick nation with physically weak
population, action is called for now. No wonder we are one of the weakest performers in global athletics and games involving physical stamina and staying power. 

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