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A yen for wastage…

A decade ago, McKinsey report mentioned that a third of fruits and vegetables produced in India are wasted through lack of attention to handling these. The report stated that this wastage is equivalent to the total consumption of such products in the UK. Involved with the Agriculture Consultancy Ma-

nagement Foundation (ACMF) promoted by IE to improve productivity of agriculture, I have watched with dismay that such wastages continue to abound in the farms; in transporting the produce from farm gates to the wholesaler; from the mandis to the retailer and finally to the consumer. Cold chains, much bandied about, are a far cry in a country where power shortages are rampant, pervasive and frequent. There is also the consequent high tariff for power, which makes cold storages so much more expensive and unaffordable by the average farmer. One solution is the quick adoption of techniques followed in developed countries. China has done this effectively, inviting large multinationals to extend technology for achieving quantum jumps in productivity of crops like potato; more importantly, in establishing a highly sophisticated system of handling the produce.

The liberalisation of retail trade is expected to attend to this. But the familiar paralysis of governance in Delhi has not enthused large retail chains to set up shop in India with any sense of urgency. Several regional leaders including Arvind Kejriwal are against liberalisation of retail trade. Hopefully, a new government at the Centre by mid 2014 would have sufficient power to focus on such vital issues.

Even while I express concern over this issue, I noticed more callous wastage in that haven for efficiency, the USA. I visited an apple orchard near Boston. There are several of these large private orchards spread over vast areas. They raise a large variety of apples. Adopting scientific practices, they produce in profuse quantities. Of course, they suffer from the problem of high cost of labour to manage these. Mechanisation, which is pervasive in most other aspects of US industry and  agriculture, has not been possible for plucking such fruits.

Private orchards resort to making money through tourism offering the opportunity for visitors spend time at the orchards and pluck the fruits.  For an entrance fee of $ 14, the visitor is provided a bag. He/she can pluck and fill these with apples and pears.  Tractor-trailer rides with hay seats take the visitors (for an additional fee) through different parts of the orchards raising several varieties of the fruits. Instructions are also given on the method of plucking the fruits.

All this is exciting. But, sadly, I noticed humongous wastage by amateurish plucking. On a rough estimate, I found more than half the produce was wasted.

There are well-organised orchards in India where attention is paid to reducing such wastage. Reliance Industries offers an excellent example. In Jamnagar, along side its two world-class refineries, the company has set up a sprawling mango orchard. Thousands of mango trees are raised on scientific basis under the direction of expert scientists and managers. The trees are pruned to a height of less than 10 feet in beautiful canopy shape. A lot of research inputs are made to extend the season as also expand variety and improve quality. The normal wastages seen in traditional orchards of tall trees suffering bird and squirrel bites are avoided. In quick time, the company established a flourishing export market for mangoes.

The lesson is clear: as in other aspects of the economy, agriculture needs science, technology and management. That is possible only by agglomeration of thousands of small land holdings. Punjab and Rajasthan have amended land acts permitting lease of land for 15 years and more. It’s time other states follow this.

 

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