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India’s Horticulture Sector

GS Paper 3

 Syllabus: Agriculture/ Geography


Source: IE

 Context: India is poised to become a leading global source of fruits and vegetables (F&V), driven by a shift towards nutrition-secure diets and increasing per capita consumption.


What is Horticulture?

Horticulture is a branch of agriculture focused on growing plants for human use, encompassing food, medicinal, and aesthetic purposes. It involves the cultivation and sale of vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, and ornamental plants. Key figures in horticulture include L.H. Bailey, known as the Father of American Horticulture, and M.H. Marigowda, regarded as the Father of Indian Horticulture. It is classified into several areas:

  1. Pomology: Focuses on fruit and nut crops.
  2. Olericulture: Concerned with vegetable production.
  3. Arboriculture: The care of individual trees and shrubs.
  4. Ornamental Horticulture: Divided into floriculture (flowers) and landscape horticulture (beautification of outdoor spaces).


Significance of the Horticulture Sector in India:

  • Horticulture’s Economic Impact: Horticulture contributes around 30% to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while using only 13% of the gross cropped area, making it a significant player in India’s agricultural growth.
  • Surpassing Food Grain Production: In recent years, the total horticulture production in India has even exceeded the total production of food grains, highlighting the potential of the sector.
  • Remarkable Productivity Growth: The productivity of horticulture has increased significantly from 8.8 tonnes per hectare (TPH) in 2001-02 to 12.1 TPH in 2020-21, leading to a sharp rebound in production and acreage, far outpacing food grains production since 2012-13.
    • With low water usage and the ability to cultivate on smaller plots, horticulture allows for reduced crop failure risk. Simultaneous cultivation of multiple crops maximizes yield and fertilizer utilization.
  • Multi-faceted Contributions: Horticulture not only contributes to the nutritional needs of the country but also creates additional job opportunities in rural areas, expands the range of agricultural activities, and generates higher incomes for farmers.
    • Additionally, it promotes dietary diversity and balanced nutrition, contributing to a healthier lifestyle.
  • Export Potential and Success: With its vast production base in horticulture, there is ample opportunity for export, with fresh fruits and vegetables being a major contributor.
    • India ranks second in fruit and vegetable production in the world after China.


Challenges faced by Horticulture Sector in India:

Historical Focus on GrainsTraditionally, India’s agricultural policies and practices have been centred around staple food crops like rice and wheat due to their significance in addressing food security issues. As a result, horticultural crops like fruits, vegetables, and spices have been relatively neglected.
Fragmented LandholdingsA significant portion of Indian agricultural land is divided into small and fragmented holdings. This makes it challenging for farmers to adopt horticultural practices that often require higher investment, knowledge, and technical expertise. The lack of economies of scale hampers the adoption of modern horticultural techniques.
Perception of Risk and ReturnsHorticulture is often perceived as riskier than traditional crops due to factors such as fluctuating market prices, perishability of produce, susceptibility to pests and diseases, and the need for specific cultivation practices.
Infrastructure and Post-Harvest LossesA lack of proper storage, transportation, and processing facilities contributes to significant post-harvest losses in horticultural produce. The absence of efficient supply chains increases wastage and reduces the overall profitability of horticultural cultivation.
Impact of Irrigation and Soil ManagementInsufficient access to water for irrigation, coupled with poor soil management practices such as over-tilling, over-fertilizing, and monocropping, can reduce soil fertility, leading to lower yields and lower-quality produce.
Market Dynamics and DemandThe demand for horticultural products in India has been increasing due to changing dietary habits, urbanization, and a growing middle class. However, the market for these products is often characterized by fluctuations in prices, inadequate marketing infrastructure, and limited market linkages for small-scale farmers.
Technical Knowledge and Extension ServicesSuccessful horticultural practices require specialized knowledge and skills. The availability of timely and accurate extension services to disseminate this knowledge to farmers has been limited. This knowledge gap can hinder the adoption of best practices and modern cultivation techniques.
Climate VulnerabilityUnpredictable weather patterns, including droughts, floods, and temperature fluctuations, can negatively impact yields and make cultivation more challenging.
Policy and Financial SupportWhile there have been efforts to promote horticulture through various government schemes, the overall level of policy and financial support has not always matched the potential of the sector.
Limited Global Trade PresenceDespite the growth of India’s horticulture sector, the country’s share in global trade remains insignificant, accounting for only 1% of the global trade in vegetables and fruits.
Impediments to Export GrowthExport growth is being undermined by production challenges, marketing challenges, inadequate transport infrastructure, fragmented supply chains, and insufficient storage facilities. These factors result in delays and wastage and discourage farmers from improving the quality of their produce.

Government Initiative: 

  1. Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH):
    1. Centrally Sponsored Scheme for holistic growth of the horticulture sector.
    2. The government of India contributes 60% of the total outlay (90% in North Eastern and Himalayan states); State governments contribute 40%.
    3. Comprises five major schemes:
      1. National Horticulture Mission (NHM)
      2. Horticulture Mission for North East and Himalayan States (HMNEH)
  • National Horticulture Board (NHB)
  1. Coconut Development Board (CDB)
  2. Central Institute of Horticulture (CIH), Nagaland
  1. Horticulture Area Production Information System (HAPIS): Web-enabled information system for reporting data from states/districts promptly.
    1. Aim to minimize time lag and maximize coverage area.
  2. Coordinated Programme on Horticulture Assessment and Management using Geoinformatics (CHAMAN): Objective: Develop a scientific methodology for estimation of area & production under horticulture crops.
    1. Utilizes Remote Sensing and Sample Survey Techniques.


Conclusion and Way Forward

To fully realize the potential of horticulture in India’s agricultural landscape, there needs to be a comprehensive approach that addresses these challenges. 

  1. Emphasis on export-oriented businesses.
  2. Integrated value chain from sourcing to processing.
  3. Supplying key agricultural inputs to enhance yield.
  4. Seed innovation for better quality produce and wider cultivation.
  5. 0 Hectare Integrated Farming Model: Cluster-based approach with diverse interventions for resilience.
  6. Tailored approaches for varied agro-climatic zones.
  7. Strengthening multi-stakeholder partnerships for demand-driven production and market linkages.


Insta links:


Mains Links:

Assess the role of the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) in boosting the production, productivity, and income of horticulture farms. How far has it succeeded in increasing the income of farmers? (UPSC 2018)