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It is significant to note that the current installed capacity can process only 3 to 4 per cent of there total production of fruits and vegetables in the country. There were around 4100 to 4200 processing units licensed with an installed capacity of 12 lakh tonnes.
The actual production in 1993 was only 5.6 lakhs tonnes implying a capacity utilization of less than 50per cent. Being seasonal in nature, the units operate for less than 150 days in a year. There is significant processing, especially in thee cottage and households sector, for preservation and production of items like pickles, chutneys and syrups, accounting for 75 percent of the total units while the small scale sector has a share of 15 per cent and the large scale sector accounted for only 10 per cent of the total units.
The government has initiated several policy measures for encouraging exports of processed fruits and vegetables. As a result, exports of these products have increased from Rs. 122.5 crores in 1990/91 to Rs. 332.4 crores in 1993/94. Mango and mango based products accounted for Rs. 118 crores while exports of processed vegetables amounted to Rs. 160 crores. Onion accounts for over 90 per cent of exports of fresh vegetables. India’s share in word exports of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables was quite insignificant being just 1 per cent.
The demand for processed fruits and vegetables comes from both the domestic and export markets. In the domestic market, a substantial share is contributed by defence, hotels and restaurants. Household consumption accounts for less than 50 per cent of the production. India’s exported are constrained by several factors such as poor quality, lack of standardization and unattractive packaging.
It is evident that there is considerable scope for expansion of processing of fruits and vegetables. Development of processing industry on modern, scientific lines would produce a variety of benefits. Firstly, it will significantly reduce the magnitude of post harvest wastage and losses. Secondly, it would generate employment opportunities on a significant scale both directly in processing activities and indirectly in trade and transport activities.
Thirdly, it will also encourage more intensive cultivation of fruits and vegetables over larger areas. It is difficult to estimate the total gains from expansion and modernization of fruit and vegetable processing activities. But there are several major constraints in accomplishing this task.
These constraints can be broadly grouped into two categories viz., (i) constraints faced by the farmers and growers, and (ii) constraints faced by the industry –including both who are involved with marketing of fresh fruits and vegetables and the processors.
Constraints of growers
The important constraints are listed below:
i. The average Indian farmer is poor and is unable to invest in high quality planting material and also not fully aware of modern agro-economic practices. The productivity is, therefore, quit poor.
ii. High quality planting material is not always available in sufficient quantities.
iii. The existence of long marketing channel with a large number of middlemen results in low returns to the growers.
iv. The storage and transport infrastructure is highly inadequate resulting in high post-harvest wastage and losses.
v. The average Indian farmer is hesitant to take up horticulture which requires high investments, long gestation periods and uncertain returns.
Constraints of processors/industry/exporters
The major constraints are as follows:
i. The quality of fruits and vegetables is not uniform. This affects the quality of processed output and the acceptability by the consumers, especially in the international markets. The poor quality also leads to high costs of processing.
ii. The domestic demand for processed products is quite low due to seasonal availability of some fresh fruits or vegetables through out the year.
iii. The processing industry ha to depend on a large number of small growers to procure the raw materials. It is difficult to develop exclusive captive sources of raw materials due to the land ceiling act. The industry faces operational difficulties in obtaining raw materials of desirable standards and quality from a large number of growers.
Constraints of consumers
The foremost constraint is the high cost of processed fruits and vegetables. Apart from the cost of raw materials and conversion costs, the high level of taxes on packaging materials and the various state levies contribute to the high costs faced by the consumers.
Current status of technology
The technologies currently used for different post-harvest operations are:
i. Harvesting: Mostly by hands or neither the help of hand tools such as clippers, scissors, etc.
ii. Sorting/Grading: Very limited. Mostly by visual inspection. Some large marketing agencies use weight based grading systems.
iii. Precooling: Limited facilities (forced draught type) for grapes, strawberries, etc. and mainly for export purposes.
iv. Packaging: mostly bamboo baskets and wooden boxes for domestic markets and corrugated fibre board (CFB) for exports. Controlled atmosphere (CA)/Modified Atmosphere (MA) packaging technology is available, but not used commercially.
v. Transportation: Mostly open vehicles. Limited use of refrigerated vehicles and trains which are mainly earmarkd for exports.
vi. Storage: Mostly ventilated storage used at the farm level. Use of cold storage at mandis is very limited.
Technologies used for processing
There are large variations in the technologies currently used for processing in the large and small scale units. The small scale units use mostly traditional methods. e.g. manual preparations, air/sun drying, batch pan concentration, etc. The preparatory activities like grading, sorting, cleaning and slicing are done mostly manually except in a few large units. The large scale units up semi-automatic/ automatic processing units.
Future vision of technology
The present study has carried out a detailed analysis of the scope and potential for introduction of modern technologies at post-harvest and processing stages in the fruits and vegetables sector. On the basis of this analysis, a detailed action plan has been prepared for the short, medium and long-term strategy for this sector. This action plan is presented in Appendix 3.