New Delhi: Production of horticulture crops like vegetables and fruits is likely to touch a record 305.4 million tonnes (mt) in 2017-18, about 1.6% higher than the previous year and 8% higher than the previous five years’ average, the agriculture ministry said in its first advance estimates released on Tuesday.
The final estimates for 2016-17 released alongside showed that production of these perishable crops was 300.6 mt, a year-on-year rise of over 5%.
Within horticulture, production of vegetables is estimated at 181 mt in 2017-18, about 1% higher than the year before, while that of fruits is estimated at 95 mt, 2% higher than the previous year.
Data showed that during the year, area under different perishable crops stood at 24.9 million hectares, about 0.3% higher than the year before. Between 2015-16 and 2017-18, productivity of horticulture crops rose from 11.7 tonnes per hectare to an estimated 12.3 tonnes per hectare.
Disaggregated data on estimates of production of specific crops showed onions at 21.4 mt, about 4.5% lower than the year before, and potatoes at 49.3 mt, marginally higher than the 48.6 mt in 2016-17. Production of tomatoes is estimated to rise 7.7% year-on-year in 2017-18 to 22.3 mt, showed the data.
The record production during 2017-18 will mark the sixth straight year of horticulture production outstripping that of foodgrains (estimated at 276mt in 2016-17), suggesting a structural change in Indian agriculture where farmers are increasingly growing perishable commercial crops due to a growing market and a quicker cash flow as these crops require less time from sowing to marketing.
However, price volatility continues to be a major risk in horticulture, with prices of onions, tomatoes and potatoes plunging below growing costs several times last year. While farmers in Madhya Pradesh were forced to sell onions as low as Rs2 per kg in June last year, in northern India, farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh were forced to dump their potato crop for want of buyers around the same time.
Retail and wholesale prices of perishables are also at a large variance from each other, implying fragmented markets and poor cold chain facilities. For instance, while tomatoes are currently selling for as low as Rs2-4 per kg in wholesale markets in Andhra Pradesh, they are retailing at Rs35 per kg in Delhi.