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Bihar sees future in fruit, vegetable cultivation

BIHAR BALLOT

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Recently, a senior US official visited Bihar. During his meetings with the state officials, he kept emphasising that Bihar's inadequate infrastructure and atrocious law and order were deterring investors.
 
That was until a senior state government official asked him whether Posco or Mittal Steel would have cared to invest a penny in Bihar, which had no iron ore or coal deposits, even if it had the best infrastructure and impeccable law and order.
 
But having silenced the US official, the state machinery has been trying to find a suitable answer to its own question and seems reasonably certain that it lies in fruits and vegetables.
 
Bihar accounts for sizeable percentages of the national production of fruits and vegetables. Realising the potential, the state is setting up farm export processing zones. "Bihar is one of the largest producers of fruits and vegetables in the country. We have to capitalise on this and bring in investments," said an official.
 
The sharpest focus, as expected, is on litchi. Bihar accounts for over three-fourths of the total litchi production in the country. The litchi export processing zone is functional and the results are visible.
 
Fruits exports have gone up from 35 tonnes in 2001-02 to 624 tonnes in 2004-05. It is projected to be 1,160 tonnes this financial year, 1,804 tonnes in the next and 2,350 tonnes in 2007-08. In the state's favour is its thick alluvial soil, rich in nutrients, and surplus water with potential for double or multiple cropping.
 
But this positive scenario is misleading. Bihar's agricultural performance has been far below the potential. It is evident from the decline in the per capital output over the past decade.
 
Constraints remain. The litchi harvest season is short and its shelf-life even shorter. In the absence of shortage of cold storage, processing and canning facilities, around half of the produce gets lost post-harvest.
 
Then there are factors that damage the entire agriculture: floods, inadequate rural power supply, fragmentation of land holdings and difficult market access. The list is endless.

 
 

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