India with diverse soil and climate comprising several agro-ecological regions provides ample opportunity to grow a variety of horticulture crops. These crops form a significant part of total agricultural produce in the country comprising of fruits, vegetables, root and tuber crops, flowers, ornamental plants, medicinal and aromatic plants, spices, condiments, plantation crops and mushrooms.
It is estimated that all the horticulture crops put together cover nearly 11-6 million hectares area with an annual production of 91 million tonnes. Though these crops occupy hardly 7% of the cropped area they contribute over 18% to the gross agricultural output in the country.
Horticultural crops play a unique role in India’s economy by improving the income of the rural people. Cultivation of these crops is labour intensive and as such they generate lot of employment opportunities for the rural population. Fruits and vegetables are also rich source of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates etc. which are essential in human nutrition. Hence, these are referred to as protective foods and assumed great importance as nutritional security of the people. Thus, cultivation of horticultural crops plays a vital role in the prosperity of a nation and is directly linked with the health and happiness of the people.
Fruits and vegetables are not only used for domestic consumption and processing into various products
(Pickles, preserves sauces, jam, jelly sques, etc.) but also substantial quantities are exported in fresh and processed form, bringing much-needed foreign exchange for the country. These groups of crops also provide ample scope for achieving bio-diversity and diversification to maintain ecological balance and to create sustainable agriculture and can make an impact on the national economy in the years to come.
India with more than 28.2 million tonnes of fruits and 66 million tonnes of vegetables is the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world next only to Brazil and China. However, per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables in India is only around 46kg and 130g against a minimum of about 92g and 300g respectively recommended by Indian Council of Medical Research and National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad. With the present level of population, the annual requirement of fruits and vegetables will be of the order of 32.58million tonnes and 83million tonnes respectively. To meet this requirement the National Commission on Agriculture has projected an area of 4m.ha. and 8m.ha. under fruits and vegetable crops respectively by 2000A.D.
The recent emphasis on horticulture in our country consequent to the recognition of the need for attaining nutrition security and for more profitable land use, has brought about a significant change in the outlook of the growers. The need for great utilization of available wastelands against the background of dwindling water and energy resources has focused attention to dry land, to arid and semi-arid tracts and to horticultural; crops which have lesser demands on water and other inputs besides being 3 to 4 times more remunerative than field crops.
It is estimated that India has 240 million acres of cultivable wasteland, which is lying idle, which can be brought under orchard crops without curtailing the area under food crops. The country has abundant sunshine throughout year, surplus labour and widely varied agro-climatic conditions, which offers high potential for successful and profitable commercial horticulture.