Synergies of Vegetable Cultivation in Assam

~Dr Kumud Chandra Talukdar

Vegetables are considered as a rich source of phytonutrients and provide diversified flavour, colour, taste, low calorie with potential micro rich diet. Low consumption of fruits and vegetables add to health complications, disabilities, limit productivity and quality of life, requires costly treatment increasing implicit social burden with adversity in health finance sector. It also attributes to heart disease, stroke, gastro intestinal concerns, diabetes, vision and is considered as the sixth main risk factor of mortality in the world. It is said that 50 per cent of all deaths world wide are due to such non-communicable diseases.
National nutrient guidelines indicate that an adult should take 300 gms of vegetables per day which will include leafy, others, roots and tubers. Lancet, a British Medical Journal revealed that about 60 per cent of people in India cannot afford to buy vegetables and it is half of high income countries. This has created a gap between normative and effective demand of vegetables and it is aggravated more by market distortion due to which vegetables do not reach the proper place of consumption in proper time, quality and price creating artificial poverty. It is also stated that about 21 per cent of Indians consume fruits and vegetables that are essential source of phytonutrients. The new generations are fond of junk and fast foods which lead to nutritional imbalance. The main reasons of not being able to meet WHO recommendations are life style, seasonality of food production, high cost, disliking for fruits and vegetables, market distortions, inadequate storage capacity and low nutritional content and others like preference to non veg food. In India, 60 per cent of vegetables are comprised of potato, tomato, onion, cabbage and cauliflower. It is found that India produces about 150 mt of vegetables from 9 mh of land according to Indian Institute of Vegetable Research. Thus, per capita gross availability of vegetables according to last census demographic data is about 315 gms which are almost equal to the normative requirement. The effective consumption, however, is about 145 gms per adult per day which is lower due to various endogenous and exogenous factors. The production of vegetables in Assam is about 35 mt during 2013-14 and the per capita availability of vegetables from domestic production is about 290 gms/day which is much less than normative requirement. The estimate may be higher after the import of vegetables from other states is considered. The cropping intensity of Assam is 145 per cent in which vegetable shares about 8.10 per cent. The normative demand for vegetables may rise in future due to population increase. Individual demand of vegetables may also be affected by its price and income of consumers accompanied by other market mix variables. The increased amount of vegetables production in future may come from fallow land, increasing productivity and by increasing the cropping intensity in the state. In the recent years, there is growing demand for organic vegetables in domestic and international markets and needs to be produced and marketed under control order. A visit to Barpeta Road vegetable market, it was found that due to high residual content of deadly chemicals, distant buyers from Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh were reluctant to buy vegetables from the market.
The existing vegetable marketing in the state is not orderly and perfect. It is collusive, exploitative and inefficient operating with high profit margins. Operational efficiency is low due to poor market logistics. Visit to different vegetable markets in various districts of the state showed that vegetable market was poorly organised. It was held on roads, no developed assembly centres, primary wholesale markets are underdeveloped, regulated primary wholesale market yards in the producing centres are almost defunct, there was no grading and sorting assortment with poor hygiene and cleanliness. There was no e-trading facilities in the markets. About 60 per cent of consumers’ price are incurred as marketing cost and margin. Cold storages are inadequate and often do not work due to erratic power supply. More over, in absence of cold storages with different chambers maintaining different levels of temperatures for different fruits and vegetables, soft coated vegetables get wasted quickly. At different levels of temperature, rate of respiration of soft coated and hard coated vegetables are different. Self life of vegetables will be longer if vegetables are harvested at morning and evening when temperature is cool. Besides, irrigation should not be given to crops before three days of harvest to increase self life. There is no proper grading and packing centres of vegetables leading to low price with high wastage. Grading can be practiced based on variety, colour like red cabbage, size, nutritional content like in broccoli, organic vegetables, tenderness etc. Markets did not have Market Intelligence Service for farmers and traders . In the month of February, wholesale price of cabbage at Barpeta Road market was found to be Rs 1.50 per kg which was sold at Rs 8.50 per kg at Beltola market of Guwahati. The producer’s share in consumer’s rupee was merely 18.00 percent. The market was found highly inefficient and exploitative. In the nearby village at Bhabanipur many households used to feed cabbage to cattle mixed with boiled rice bought from FPS. It was much cheaper than branded cattle feed like Kapila and Sona. Thus, the markets created spatial disequilibrium wwith high price risk. Such market distortions led to poor linkages between money market with the commodity market at farm level affecting commercialisation of vegetables. Farmers can gain market power through group marketing catching the distant market or through organisation of their own market like Rythu Bazar in Andhra Pradesh practising direct sale. This needs intervention of the government. In the recent time, formation of farmers’ company in Maharastra is able to produce and supply enough fruits and vegetables to Mumbai market benefitting the producers and consumers. Maintaining low cost of production per quintal by increasing productivity through application of better technology with quality can gain marketability of the products and can attain bargaining power in market competition. Every year local potato cannot catch the market in competition in Assam due to high cost of production and ultimately the Government was compelled to relieve the farmers by procuring at high price.
The commercial cultivation of vegetables in most places of Assam is controlled by the immigrant farmers. In the riverine track land is rented by the tenants from the ‘matabbor’ while it is rented in the countryside from the land lord at Rs 8000.00 per year. It is cultivated inorganically up to February with high dose of chemical fertiliser and other chemicals with application of booster. Early and late production of vegetables fetched higher prices in the market and compensated the crash in prices in the months of Feb- ruary and March. Many farmers were found to advance crop season of cabbage and cauliflower by sowing early variety seeds under sheds and then transplanting and hardening it in plastic tea cups and finally transplant the seedlings in the soil when rain stops. The crop becomes ready to be harvested by Oct-Nov. It fetches a high premium price in the early market.
Processing and other value added activities in vegetables were not prominent in Assam. India processes only 2 per cent of fruits and vegetables against 80 per cent in USA and 30 per cent in China. Assam has 44 fruits and vegetable processing units with installed capacity of 8260 tonnes against 865 units in Maharastra, 497 units in UP, 432 units in TN and 368 units in Kerala. There is much scope for vegetable processing following codes of Bureau of Indian Standard which will be acceptable in the high consumer segment. Few codes are IS: 5800-1970(orange juice), IS: 4624-1978 (dehydrated peas), IS: 3501-1966(pickles) and many more. The entire process of value addition should follow HACCP norms to increase marketability. Without value addition agricultural products as raw material cannot bring growth and development to the economy. Application of Value chains can also solve the problems of production, market distortions and distribution in the whole process. Use of better variety and better seeds, procurement of seeds from reliable sources, timely sowing and planting, proper use of nutrients, other chemicals, use of optimum irrigation, proper adoption of technology, better farm practices, reduction of cost of inputs, rational use of capital to increase productivity, timely harvesting, storage and processing, transpor- tation and selling in the market at proper time, place and quality such that each activity will add value to the products for increasing farm income. The product, thus, produced should be of better quality and less costly so that it gains market power to earn more profit. Young entrepreneurs can also cultivate some exotic high valued vegetables needed in the star hotels and tourist lodges where local vegetables are in less demand. It was found at farm level that more than 70 per cent of farmers were aware of farm technology and they were motivated to adopt by their neighbours, fellow farmers, friends, traders and input houses. The roles played by the state Department of Agriculture and university scientists/officials were not so distinct. This seriously indicates that the Assam agriculture for commercial vegetable cultivation has been in the control of traders and Input dealers. It has been envisaged that suitable policies be adopted for value chain management in vegetable cultivation with developed and modern logistics. There is much scope for production of organic vegetables both for domestic and international markets followed by intensive training on commercial vegetable cultivation. Economy of scale can be obtained for vegetable cultivation in the crop zones under different agro ecological situations of the State.

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Writher – Dr K. C Talukdar, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics & Farm Management,
Assam Agricultural University Jorhat-13.

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