New Delhi: In a bid to develop India’s horticulture sector and help states identify suitable areas and crop types, the agriculture ministry is working on a project which uses satellites and remote sensing technology.

Known as CHAMAN, or Coordinated Horticulture Assessment and Management using geoinformatics, the project is being implemented by the Delhi-based Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre and is likely to be completed by March.

“The idea is to use space technology to identify crops suitable to different areas and raise production of horticulture crops," said agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh.

The minister said that the project will help states develop horticulture clusters and related infrastructure like cold chains. “Farmers’ income will also increase by growing these selected crops in suitable areas and land which is currently lying waste," he added.

In 2016-17, production of horticulture crops like fruits, vegetables and spices touched a record high of 300 million tonnes, outstripping production of foodgrains for the fifth year in a row. Currently, India is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, and a top producer of crops like banana, mango and lemons.

“As horticulture crops are grown in small plots, and on backyards of homes, and these crops have multiple harvesting seasons in a year, it is difficult to estimate exact production," said Mamta Saxena, adviser to the agriculture ministry.

Saxena added that the CHAMAN project will help in accurate forecasting of area and production of seven major crops in about 185 districts across India. These crops are banana, mango, citrus, potato, onion, tomato and chilli.

Under the project, the ministry will use remote sensing and geoinformatics data to integrate information on weather, soil, land-use, and crop mapping to prepare horticulture development plans, the ministry said in a statement.

State governments can make choices by using the study reports and select the crops and develop related post-harvest infrastructure, the statement added. The ministry said interim reports prepared under the CHAMAN project will be handed over to the north-eastern states by January next year.

Driven by consumer demand, farmers across India have rapidly adopted horticulture crops which ensure a quicker cash flow and can be grown in very small plots. However, major crops like tomatoes, onion and potatoes see frequent price risks, which force farmers to either sell at a loss or dump their produce for lack of buyers.

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