The high food inflation which is being experienced in India during the last 2-3 years can be attributed to soaring prices of fruits and vegetables in the country and naturally this situation has a bearing on the health of the population. While per capita consumption figures based on total production and the current population may not be so alarming but it hides more than what is revealed! It is a tragedy that the country's government puts out figures of production not based on ground realities and most of the figures coming out of Krishi Bhavan are more an estimate than the real production figures. Probably no one really knows how much is produced, consumed and wasted for want of protective measures during harvesting, storage and delivery to the consumer. Under such a situation, is the country destined to be a case of "blind leading the blind" with no one able to provide real time solution to the problem?
If a search is made regarding country's production of fruits and vegetables annually, either there are widely varying figures or a set of figures are repeated by many authors, citing each other! If one goes by most quoted figures, India accounts for 12% of world production of fruits estimated at 600 million tons (MT) and 20% of global output of vegetables placed at 1000 MT. That means about 60 MT of fruits and 120 MT of vegetables. Every article on fruit and vegetables do not fail to boast that India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables behind China which reported a production of more than 600 MT last year, though these figures have not been independently verified. Assuming that Indian production estimates are accurate, does any one know how much of this reaches the consumer? That is another story!
From time to time claims have been made from different platforms that the country was incurring a post harvest loss of 25-40% though there is no authentication regarding these estimates. Even the Prime Minister of the country declared last year that food losses in the country is 30%! According to most recent estimates (veracity suspect) India is "wasting" food to the extent of Rs 44000 crore out of which fruits and vegetables account for Rs 13300 crore because of various reasons, most of which is due to negligence, mismanagement, sub optimum infrastructure, low level of education of farmers, lack of investment, etc, etc! Assuming these figures may be some where near the truth, why is that successive governments did not take any pro-active action to correct the situation?
Of course Government did set up the National Horticulture Board in 1984, supposed to be for boosting the horticulture industry. Then there is the National Horticulture Mission presumably for achieving increased production of these perishable produce. What has been achieved so far is some thing of a mystery because wastage figures still hover around 25-40%! Government does not seem to be learning any thing from its past experience as reflected by the colossal failure of similar such Missions on oil seeds, pulses etc which saw wastage of enormous public funds without achieving any thing as shortage of edible oil and pulses is still continuing. Does this mean that India can never come out of this morass and save its population from shortage of essential protective foods in the daily diet?
What is shocking is that country has a successful model to emulate in National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) led by the great Dr V Kurien which made this country top producer of fluid milk in a span of three decades. How did he achieve this feat? A simple answer is that he led a team of technical and managerial professionals who worked from a small town far away from Delhi's interfering bureaucrats! The cooperative milk federation called Amul is a standing testimony to the success of cooperative model for production, processing and marketing. There is no reason why such cooperative system cannot work in the case of fruits and vegetables also if honest attempt is made and government does not interfere with its funct.
According to a recent study there are about 6300 cold stores in the country, most of which are established in just 4 states while the actual requirement to take care of country's production would be of the order of about 12000. Existing facilities can handle about 30 MT of perishables while what is needed is additional storage capacity of another 30 MT calling for an investment of the order of 60000 crore. Only a dedicated organization like Amul can mobilize such a huge investment and implement the cooperative production at the village level. It is imperative that cold stores are established near the production areas as well as near the consumption centers to maintain optimum quality of the produce. Further an efficient supply chain consisting of refrigerated or insulated trucks is a pre-requisite for the success of such an effort.
The much hated Agriculture Produce Market Centers set up in most states have outlived their utility and are becoming a captive facility for cheating the growers by thousands of agents who monopolize the auction activities. If the cooperative entity intended for supporting the growers becomes a reality, the producers have an alternative to sell their produce in a transparent way in stead of to traders or at the APMC yards, assuring them decent returns. If private dairies are working successfully in many states competing with state milk federations, why not private nt nt players compete with the proposed cooperative fruit and vegetable entity? It is time Government finds another missionary cum visionary like late Dr V Kurien to redeem the sad conditions under which almost all small producers of perishables work to day.