Ecohorts Blog


Reflections on Italy Study tour with IFTA (November, 2014)

Posted in Study Tours by Administrator on the December 5th, 2014

Interpoma2

Firstly, I must thank IFTA and Dr.Terence Robinson for leading such a wonderfully well organised study tour to South Tyrol. It was ten days full of tours to nurseries, orchards, research facilities, packaging facilities, cooperatives, site-seeing and Interpoma. Every day was filled with eight hours of pure knowledge with this highly experienced family of IFTA growers and scientists, extension specialists primarily from USA, Canada and the host country Italy.

Perspective: Why people flock to Italy to learn apple growing? The answer is they have one of the highest average crop yields in the world. It is no secret that with approximately 18,000 hectares, South Tyrol produces as much apples as we produce with over 200,000 hectares. The high productivity is not because they have giant farms with monster machines and economies of scale; it is quite the opposite. The size of most apple orchards’ in South Tyrol is about two to three acres (10 to 15 Bighas of Shimla). The small holdings, global competition and threat to their economy and livelihood inspired them to new heights of “precision Apple growing” in a cooperative way. This is something that inspired me most and instilled a belief that we can also be world beaters, if we continue to evolve our methods and learn from best practices. Climate wise, Northern Italy gets about 300 days of sunlight and around 150 to 200mm of rain. There is no way I can download all we discussed, shared and learnt during the trip in this small blog but there are a few insights or conclusions from which fit our own apple industry in Himachal. A few important ones are noted below with no particular order of importance.

1. Growers’ Cooperatives: The key to success of this small apple growing region, with small land holdings, is collaboration through “Cooperatives”. Cooperatives ensure the brand of “Suditrol” apples flies very high. The collaborative culture evolved because of the hardships (labour, competition from Europe) faced by apple growers in 1970s and 1980s. Farmers’ cooperatives receive some incentives from the Government and they manage the entire supply chain and marketing for member growers. Farm incentives are only given to cooperatives and not individual growers, therefore keeping people together and interested in collaboration. The Government’s policy framework around cooperatives is worth researching /adapting for Himachal Pradesh and may prove to be a game changing step that a Government can possibly implement. Cooperatives on the pattern of Italy with latest grading packing machines will improve postharvest handling of fruit and control fruit supply (avoid glut) and reduce the orchard operating costs for growers. An example: It is much better to install cooperative CA stores with high tech grading, sorting and packaging machines than buying (manually hammered iron) individual grading machines that cost much more collectively to the growers, when all collateral costs are added up e.g. building individual packing houses by individual growers. This act of individualism does not only spread the scarce resources too thin; it gives us much poorer product for which we will be competing with the best in the world in a few years.

2. Nursery trees: Foundation of a commercially successful orchard: As you sow, so shall you reap is as true for apple orchards as it is for any other crop. The only difference is that our “seed” is the nursery plant. The nurseries in Italy supply highly feathered (branches) trees. A minimum of seven, ten inch long, branches in addition to several small feathers with flower buds at the end are the most common. The best of whip trees, we plant in Himachal Pradesh currently, take about three years to reach the shape and size of nursery trees available in this part of the world. The key advantages are:

  • Agility: In fast and dynamic market of the west, (fast approaching us in India as well), excellent nursery trees provide a means to change varieties quicker and take the early mover advantage in the marketplace while others still catch up.
  • Enables fast Orchard Renewal: Most of our old orchards lack a bold and structured renewal programme. A common fear of yield loss if we take out big old tree and the anticipated ten years to get that yield back from the replacement is a major deterrent. As a result growers are continuing with old trees with dropping yields and quality well beyond their useful economic life.
  • Enable high density and low intensity orchard architecture: The most important ingredient to setup a high density/low management intensity orchard is a highly feathered nursery tree that can be trained to modern low-tech training systems and rewards the growers with its first crop in third year.

3. Nurturing the orchard: Trees in first year (first leaf) are planted on M9 rootstock. A permanent support structure with supporting wires (trellis) is installed to take the fruit load. Drip irrigation and Fertigation is integral part of the orchard setup. Tree and fruit development, both need water and nutrients at proper time and precise quantity. The precision of nutrients is the differentiator between highly productive and ordinary orchards. First four years of orchard life are important for structure of tree; therefore, summer pruning and high concentration of nutrients is required in the initial years. Winter pruning is avoided as it turns the tree vegetative and very aggressive. In later years fertilizer application is reduced. On more mature trees, chemical and hand thinning is regularly performed, in addition to bloom thinning with tractor mounted apparatus. Leaf analysis is done after fruit set to ascertain the nutrient level and further addition via Fertigation is based on this analysis. Proper fruit maturing testing for ripening and harvest dates is strictly followed. Delicious group apples are sprayed with Promalin, which improves the elongation of fruits resulting in an attractive length and diameter ratio. Diseases like Codling Moth and Fire blight are a constant challenge in addition to scab. Irrigation water in the flat land is drawn from the sub soil. In hilly zones, irrigation water comes once a week and time hours per farmer are set. Extensive weed management programme in commercial orchards and nurseries is followed. Mulching was commonplace with grass, chopped pruning waste, pine bark too were some materials seen in various orchards.

4. Mechanisation on slopes: Labour shortages had a positive and innovative effect on the South Tyrol farm economy. A great range of innovative machinery has been developed for small farms. A definite eye opener was the use of small and customised machinery (small continuous track machines with various extensions and/or platform) that was being used on steep slopes to spray, harvest and prune the orchard. In some ways this is good news for our growers as we are a fast developing economy, where rural labour will increasingly be in short supply as we compete with urban centres for labour. Pruning machines (coupled with fruit wall architecture) have dramatically lowered technical labour costs as bloom thinning, summer and winter pruning becomes increasingly mechanised. This also proves the simplicity of new orchard architecture, which we can use.

5. Harvest and Post-harvest: Harvest is carefully controlled to avoid glut conditions in the market. Retain, a chemical that inhibits ethylene, is used to delay harvest is in use. Fruit is tested for accurate maturity/harvest date and refractometers, pressure gauges and starch testing is required before harvest. Harvest date is finalized by the cooperative marketing experts, after proper test of total soluble solids and fruit pressure. Harvested crop is graded at cooperative grading, storage and packaging facilities. The growers must send their full harvest to their cooperatives only. Big bins (300 KG large crates) are supplied by the cooperative to farmers and used to harvest and transport apples to packing facility. Apples pass through quality testing for size/colour and the details are recorded in the growers account. After pre-cooling the fruits are moved to the controlled atmosphere storage with huge capacity to store. Supply to local market, European Union countries and others e.g. Russia is done via refrigerated ground transport. The fruits being shipped are still as fresh as harvested from the trees.

6. Diversification: Tourism and viticulture are the other equally big professions of growers. Small (local architecture) hotels and grape vineyards in South Tyrol are as common a sight as apple orchards. The name of the game is to NOT keep all your eggs in one basket and diversify income stream. Italian wines are world famous and exported worldwide. Growers collaborate (through cooperatives mostly) with experts, who provide advice on grape varieties for the farm after extensive soil testing, water quality testing, micro climate analysis et al. This follows advice and wine making consultancy from experts who are well known in the market. They help in developing vineyards, developing flavour of wine and marketing of wines. This is an area of potential economic boom for our region. As our middle class increases and drinks much more of the higher end wines, we are in a unique climate zone to produce excellent grapes and boutique wines. We also, noted that Red Love (a red apple with blood red flesh) is becoming hugely popular and used to make red coloured apple champagne.

Due to the natural beauty of the area and well developed ski resorts, tourists from all over the world flock to the area. However, the natural beauty is preserved because no construction is allowed anywhere without prior permission and there is no concrete to be seen. The homes and hotels have to be in local architecture. It all gels with local heritage and environment.

The key learning for me was that if done correctly, we can keep making a good living, preserve our unique way of life and yet can protect our environment and pass it to our next generations.

On a cautionary note, I must say that with globalization we have higher risks. The present and imminent one being fire blight and codling moth. India and its citizens need to comply with a strict quarantine regime to avoid importing these industry threatening problems to our apple industry. In Italy they completely wipe out a nursery or a site if any of these diseases appear. A point to note is that all delegates throughout the trip mentioned the opportunity Indian market provides. I heard stories about how everyone plans to encash the huge Indian market, which is very under-supplied from local apple production.

In conclusion, it is a reality check for us. Can we catch-up and stay one step ahead of the competition? What do we need to do? Looking at the quick wins for us, here are some thoughts we should start to work towards as growers, society and Government:

  1. It is high time our nursery practices catch-up with rest of the world and it is not complicated at all. We need a head start to transform our orchard landscape.
  2. We should not be afraid of higher density and low management intensity orchards and try them on portions of gentle slopes to develop our own best practices.
  3. Cooperatives have come and gone in India but they need to come in another Avatar. We need economies of scale to compete in the supply chain of apples. The competition will only become fiercer. In 2014 season, first time, Washington apples were still shipping to India during our apple season. Sign of things to come.
  4. Diversification should be on the cards – be it viticulture or tourism we need to take advantage of our unique location in our country.
  5. Prepare for mechanisation – this is not short term fix for us as it will only make our operating costs higher than our current methods but with labour shortages we need to start designing our future orchards in a way that we can make the switch at the opportune time.
  6. The Government has a role to play in all this. I highly recommend that the government sponsors a study of the cooperative framework in South Tyrol and think longer term to create a climate of innovation by making collaboration attractive to people. The Government should not be in the business but an enabler of the business. Road infrastructure goes without saying.
  7. Lastly, as citizens and growers, we don’t need to go to the brink of extinction before we get together, we should do it now and make it hard of competition in supply chain to settle in.
Lakshman Thakur Chairman, Himalayan Eco Horticulture Society
www.ecohorts.org

Organized Retail – Challenges and what lies ahead for the Apple Grower?

Posted in Organized Retail by Administrator on the February 1st, 2014

The current burning Question: Are the farmers, ready for organized retail?

I am deliberately, avoiding the term FDI in retail because it is a political stunt. FDI or no FDI, Indian retail will eventually become “organized retail” at a speed that most people don’t imagine possible. If we avoid Walmart, Tesco and Carrefour; we will still have our own equivalents in India. The rate at which billionaires are made in India is second to none; and they know where to put their dollars to generate more dollars. Globally, retail is a trillion dollar business and someone has to eat into the India cake – be it FDI or no FDI; the cake is too big to be left to the street vendor.

Let’s examine the various points of views:

a. My view as a consumer, I am all in favour for organized retail because it gives me choices 24×7x365. It gives me a transparent value delivery. It gets me all in one place or even at my doorstep at a time I choose and the products last longer because of excellent packaging and improved handling. I can write this for hours. No need though. Everyone knows the good stuff.

b. My view as an economist, I am sensitive to the (left of centre) view that seems worried about the Chahhbawala (street vendor) but the horrendous conditions and exploitation of this very Chhabawala are well known and well ignored. The unorganized retail has made sure that this street vendor remains a Chhabawala for generations after generations. He lives with appalling conditions (slums) at home and the biggest mud pond in Asia at work (Azadpur Mandi). Therefore, let’s throw away the philanthropic idea, no favours are being done to anyone. The economist in me thinks, if we have organized retail and an efficient supply chain we can save the 30% fruit and veg that goes to the rot. We can ill afford such luxuries when we have the largest hungry population in the world. The creation of supply chain will create millions of direct and indirect jobs. All the construction and unskilled workers will come from somewhere!! Again the list goes on forever.

c. My View as a farmer is that we have a great challenge at hand. Are we readyyyyyyy for the muscle of the buyers who deal with trillion dollar supply chains?  Obviously we are not. We can’t even handle the humble artiyas (commission agent). The commission agents are tiny midgets compared to the dinosaurs I deal with every day. The dinosaurs have very deep pockets. Remember, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, they were betting for the future. They lost and probably still lose hundreds of millions of dollars every year in India – just to keep the market share, till they kick everyone out. Secondly,

The view of the supermarket: Now think of yourself as the manager of a mature supply chain in the modern world without bounds, where you as a buyer in organized retail can make multi-million dollar procurement contracts or forward contracts with wholesalers and farmers cooperatives. You will obviously buy where the best (read extortionist) prices are available. Also, where the fruit is handled well and will not perish (ahem: telescopic cartons) An example is the American apple growers. When they can’t sell their crop where they want to the leftovers are sold for 15 cents a Kg. Half of this can be transported globally and the supply chains make a margin of 500% by selling them in Bengali market. The Eureka moment, did you know American delicious lands cheaper on Indian ports than Himachali Delicious lands in New Delhi? Same goes for European apples. Thankfully, they don’t grow varieties that our customers like (phew!!!).

The time machine: Let us look into the future. What made me think and share these views is my connection with ecohorts, my weekly shopping at the local super market (?) and my connection with British top fruit industry. The Italian and now the British apple industry is a great source of inspiration for top fruit growers worldwide. Looking at their life cycle to date is like going into the time machine and looking at our future. The wise always learn from others mistake and by learning from their journeys we can avoid the disastrous earthquakes they felt in Europe and America. Let’s reflect on the two well known examples:

1. The Italian job: The Italian orchards are typical and most close to ours. They have slopes (well somewhat), mountains and valleys, limited land per capita (only 19000 hectares in the whole region), small holdings and no economies of scale. As a result of the competitive conditions created indirectly by organized retail the apple industry in Italy was almost wiped out. This is because the super markets found cheaper/efficient sources elsewhere. The average grower with just about two to three acres of holding did not stand a chance against the buying power of organized retail. How did they deal with it? Fast forward 30 years, they improved their efficiency and adopted/improved growing techniques to take the yield levels from 15 tonnes to 80 -100 tonnes per hectare. They diversified (home tourism and vineyards) and the neighbours got together and shared facilities and bought farm inputs collectively to create economies of scale (collaboration). The result – now they have the highest yields in the world and command credibility beyond imagination. The Americans and rest of the Europeans go to Bolzano to learn from them.

2. The British example: All the above did happen to the British Apple industry. Additionally, the British had another complication – emotional attachment to their centuries old apple orchards and every orchard had 100 traditional varieties that were passed down from generations. A few years ago, there was no sign of British apples in the supermarkets and the fabled research institutions turned into small time applied research companies that only do paid applied research for (guess who) super markets. Finally, the current generation of top fruit farmers turned a page – they bulldozed their traditional orchards and went for the cutting edge European models, reduced the cultivars to what the customers wants and now can move apple varieties more quickly than we change cars. Orchards for life are history now. Small cooperatives are in place to help keep the costs down. One most important factor, they got together with the government to promote “Eat British”. They funded government campaigns and due to awakened consumer, the supermarkets are helping local growers to increase the market share of British top fruits on the shelf. The market share that had gone down to below 20% local fruit even during harvest season has made a comeback. The consumer is helping by demanding more “local produce”. Farmers are able to make some cash and allocate Capex for the next generation of orchards that are investment heavy. In a nutshell, a great collaboration between the consumer and producer forced the comeback of British top fruit grower and now the super markets are helping as well.

What can we do? For us the answer lies in the middle. We need to do a bit of both. Right now the aspirations of the nation mean that anything imported is preferred and desired. In future, slowly and steadily the consumer needs to be educated (forget the government). The growers can do their part by improving the choices for consumers i.e. put fruit on the shelf that is second to none and at a price that is world beating. The organized retailer will go where he smells the dollars. We need to be competitive to a point where we have the Capex to diversify or/and deep enough cooperation (read pockets) to take losses for long. Remember, the Cherries I eat these days are coming from South America (Chile etc.), we struggle to get them to Delhi in time.

In conclusion, avoiding organized retail is not an option – surviving organized retail is where the trick lies. See the future in my weekly shopping picture and the list below. See what the British farmer competes with every day. Notice where all these fruits have come from and where your competition lies. We need to think how a poor country like Chile can break into established markets in our backyard. Remember, there is still a lot to learn. Our next generation is working hard and working smart and we are sure we will beat the competition but it will need meticulous planning and ruthless finance management – the talent for numbers has to come. Remember – if you can’t beat them join them.

Apples (Fuji) – China and others Chile, New Zealand and Germany.

Litchi – South Africa

Cherry and  Blueberries – Chile

Dragon Fruit – China/Hong Kong

Kiwi – New Zealand

Oranges – Spain

Redcurrants – Holland

Strawberry – Egypt

Dates – Tunisia

Radish – Morocco

Okra – India

Tomatoes – Italy and the list goes on it is hard to find two things from one country.



@Copyright ecohorts

Contributions by Ecohorts Admin.

Visit to China Agriculture Exposition December, 2011

Posted in Study Tours by Administrator on the December 22nd, 2011

Zhengzhou (China)
Lakshman Thakur
(Chairman, Ecohorts)

The Modern Agriculture Exposition (18-20 November, 2011) was organized by Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, Taiwan affairs office and the state Forestry Administration at Zhangzou, whicih is famous area in South East China for processed food technology. It is also well known for animal husbandry, fishery products, mushroom production and its processing, canning and crisp mushroom chips. 1206 organizations from 26 countries participated in the event.

A group of twelve participants from Himachal Pradesh also participated. Himalayan Eco-horticulture Society (Ecohorts), setup a stall at the exposition to exchange ideas. The visiting delegation included, Dr.J.M.Singh (former V.C. of UHF Nauni), Dr. K. D. Verma (former professor and head, plant pathology) and three working scientists of fruit science department from University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni, H.P. (Dr.D.P.Sharma, Dr.D.D.Sharma and Dr.N.K.Sharma) along with seven members of Himalayan Eco-horticulture Society (ecohorts), including Mr.Lakshman Thakur (Chairman), Mr.Inder Vikram Sarjolta (secretary), Mr.Lokeshwar Rapta, Mr.Nigam Singh, Mr.Jagpal Jistu, Mr.Virender Tajta and Mr.Ram lal Chauhan.

The focus areas for Ecohorts were:

• To explore low cost technologies to help mechanisation of horticulture in orchard management viz. grass cutters, tillers, spray equipment, fruit sorting or grading equipment etc. A large variety of such equipment was on display at the exposition.

• Increase farmer-to-farmer contact between Indian and Chinese horticulturists. The Chairman of Ecohorts presented a proposal to the Chief Guest of the exposition to this effect (Chinese Premier of the region).

The visiting delegation observed the following:

• Infrastructure in China is the key enabler of high yielding farm sector in China. In Himachal Pradesh (India), lack of infrastructure for post-harvest management and handling, such as Controlled atmospheric (CA) storage, cold chain and packaging material creates a big waste.

• There is a big gap in post-harvest handling, including the processing of process-grade fruits. This amounts to 25% of total production being totally lost.

• Land utilization was based on micro-planning. Flat area for cereal cultivation, gentle slopes for fruit production like Guava or Litchi and higher slopes areas under conifer forest.

• Soil conservation, water harvesting and its management all were aggressively pursued by the state and farming communities and supported by the state.

• Special Economic Zones (SEZ) had hybrid cultivation of cereals, vegetables, fruits and flowers. This enabled production of high quality output, consistently.

From the state of the art farming infrastructure to progressive /collaborative farming – there is lot to learn from our neighbours. These are key enablers of Chinese farm productivity. On one hand the state needs to create the infrastructure and on the other hand farmers need to reach out and adopt best practices, especially to mechanisation.

The short trip to China was only a beginning of a long journey in exploring the best practices and benefitting from them. On the way back from China, the Ecohorts team lead by Mr. Lakshman Thakur, met with the National Horticulture board (NHB) officials in New Delhi to propose a similar exposition at Mashobra (near Shimla) to share machinery, tools and techniques, specifically targeted at Horticulture in hilly regions. The idea is to bring the technologies to the door step of thousands of farmers in the state. NHB has accepted the proposal and an exposition will be held in 2012.

We are looking forward to a long overdue revolution in increasing orchard productivity in the state. It needs commitments from the state and collaborative effort from our progressive farming community.

Avenues of Vegetable Production in Hilly Region

Posted in Vegetable Crops by Administrator on the April 22nd, 2008

Himachal Pradesh is gifted with a variety of agro-climatic conditions due to variation in elevation (350m to 7000m) and aspect which makes the state as an ideal one fort the production of a wide range of vegetable crops. To day Himachal Pradesh has emerged as an important vegetable growing state particularly for the production of Tomato, Capsicum, French bean and Cucumber during off season. Due to cooler climatic conditions in lower hill areas of the state as compared to plains ,these crops ripen at the time when the crop is almost over in the plains there by creating a readily available market for the vegetable growers of state .

Vegetable crops are considered most suitable altenate to bring about diversification into the traditional farming systems relevant in hills. The diversification in hill agriculture can be brought through introduction of rare exotic vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, red cabbage, Brussels’s sprouts and Swiss chards. The cultivation of early maturing and short duration crop varieties of traditional vegetables such as tomato, capsicum, french bean, pea, cabbage, cauliflower and ginger will be very helpfuin increasing the vegetable productivityl. A vast spectrum of hybrid varieties of tomato, bell pepper, cucumber, cabbage and cauliflower as well as European carrots suited for microclimates conditions need to be developed to bring higher economic returns. Protected cultivation of vegetable nursery in tunnels and polyhouses to synchronizing the timing of availabilty of vegetables in relation to market demand will also be an important strategy.

With the advances in vegetable breeding and production, many non traditional areas in the plains have started producing vegetables in the season when they used to receive these vegetables from hills therby providing tough competition, consequently, it is only high quality of vegetables produced from hill which can help to withstand competition. Besides it, vegetable produce can provide ample employment potential and suit the small and marginal farmers of the hills. To stabilize economic transformation brought about by off-season vegetables such as tomato, bell pepper, beans, peas, cabbage and cauliflower following strategies could be adopted.

Strategies

a. There is need to develop quality hybrids, suited to agro-climatic conditions of the hills in case of tomato, bell pepper, cabbage and cauliflower. The collaboration between private and public sectors is essential for assured availability of high quality seed at reasonable price round the year.

b. To maintain the seasonality and to lower the cost of production as well as to make cultivation of vegetables sustainable and eco-friendly, stress has to be laid on developing varieties resistant to insect pests and diseases and other stresses like heat, cold, drought and high rainfall.

c. For commercial production, availability of irrigation water is very important. Since water is availability is scarce in some areas, the use of drip irrigation and proper watershed management should be followed. This will help in increasing the area under vegetable in the hills.

d. The efforts should be made to produce the seed of temperate vegetables, such as cabbage, European carrots, radish, garden beets and cole crops as this part of the country is most suited for seed production of temperate vegetables. Therefore full advantage of these climatic conditions should be taken by adopting seed production of thes crops

e. Since the post-harvest losses in vegetables are quite high, there is need to develop suitable technology which could reduce the losses after harvest.

f. Heavy post-harvest losses to the tune of 25-30 percent are responsible for non-availability of vegetables in sufficient quantities to large section of the population. In order to meet challenges of nutritional security, sincere attention is required on creation and strengthening of post-harvest infrastructures on the aspects of post-harvest disease control, maturity standards and harvesting techniques, primary processing and on form waxing, availability of packaging cases and packaging material, pre-cooling, zero-energy cool chamber and cool chain, processing of under utilized vegetables and waste utilization.

Export orientation

In the present scenario of globalization, the production of non traditional export oriented vegetables such as asparagus, bell pepper, celery, baby corn, brussels’s sprout, broccoli and red cabbage should be increased. The demand of these vegetables exists in South East Asia and European countries. The cultivation of these vegetables can be very easily done outdoor in the hills. Therefore stress can laid on the cultivation of these vegetables

Strategies for Export

a. Identification of pocket areas, where these export oriented vegetables can be grown to the standards of international quality.

b. Giving special treatments to vegetables during storage, package, handling and transportation to maintain the quality standards as desired by APEDA.

c. Developing closer links with Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) which has identified vegetables like onion, garlic, potato, okra, bitter gourd, chillies, asparagus, celery, sweet pepper and tomato for export. These vegetables are non traditional and suited for products in the hills.

It is desirable that the diverse and rich agro-ecological farming situations of the State of Himachal Pradesh are explored for the cultivation of variety of vegetables with tremendous domestic marketing as well as international market. Structural changes introduction system via diversification, value addition, harmonious integration of modern and indigenous know how, organized marketing strategies and infrastructural development are needed for the sustainable development in Himachal Pradesh.

Dr.J.S.Kanwar
Former Head,
Deptt of Vegetable Crops,
Punjab Agricultural University,
Ludhiana, India

Managing Financial risk in Farming

Posted in Finance in Farming by Administrator on the April 6th, 2008

Introduction

Spring is probably the most celebrated season in the world. As it breaks the spell of winter in the Himalayan foothills the bloom in Cherry, Plums, Almonds, Pear and Apple trees is delighting the senses. Have a closer look around yourself (Is it really a happy time?) the deeds of mankind or perhaps the unforgiving cycles of nature have changed the outlook for the farming communities. There is anxiety in the eyes, the coffee house and neighborhood cafes are buzzing with bad news about hailstorms, excessive rains and other natural calamities ruining the bloom of spring and in turn hopes and livelihoods of millions, who depend on it.

Lately, the above scenarios have become more and more frequent. It is brewing a socio-economic crisis in the region. There is an exodus from rural areas to the cities in search of alternative career options for the younger generation. Rural unemployment is a major issue. This is creating additional pressure on the cities which are not equipped to handle such a large influx of migrants; the result is urban slums and poverty, food shortages due to reduced lands under cultivation.

Role of Finance

Firstly, farming needs to be looked at as a business (especially by farmers). Cutting edge farm technology is being put to use to improve productivity and quality of produce. On the one hand, the race for cutting edge farm practices and on the other hand there has hardly been any effort by the Government, financial institutions, development agencies or NGOs to reach out to the farmers and educate them about the financial instruments that are now so widespread in the west.

The only financial instruments Government has offered for decades are “crops loans” (or their variants) that have played a part in crippling the farming communities into debt traps and ultimately the Government into a Fiscal mess.

The recent drive by Himachal Pradesh Government, to include Apple and Citrus fruits in the Agriculture Insurance scheme is a positive step. I would like to discuss some Financial Instruments currently available and effectively used around the world that should be put to better use by the farming communities.

“Risks to farm revenues come from two sources: prices and yields. When both prices and yields are insured, so is the product of the two, farm revenues.” President Clinton, Economic Report to Congress, February 1995.

The key risks identified in the above statement are:
Price Risk: This refers to the impact of demand and supply equation of the markets. The supply is related to production risk, owing to weather conditions (deeds of God).The Government is providing minimum support prices for key crops and hence covering the costs to some extent. However, the support prices won’t even cover the cost of production and post harvest expenses in most cases. Price risks can be effectively managed by derivative instruments.

Production Risk:This should be considered as a complicated form of Price Risk because if the farmer doesn’t have the produce his revenues will be zero. Insurance can clearly cater to production risks.

The key instruments worth a discussion are as follows. Please note they are complicated financial instruments and the following discussion is just a brief introduction and shall not be considered conclusive in any way.

1. Crop Insurance
2. Futures and Options
3. Weather Derivatives

  • 1. Crop Insurance:
  • Crop Insurance is the simplest instrument for farmers. It’s purchased by farmers and others to protect themselves against natural disasters viz. hail storms, floods, droughts or the loss of income due to price fluctuations. The two key types of crop insurance are:

    Crop Yield/produce Insurance:

      Hail Storms:

    In the west (Germany and France) hail insurance was started by Co-operatives. Since hail is generally a limited peril and financial risk to private insurance companies is manageable; this has since been in the private domain in developed markets.

      Multi-calamity Insurance:

    This covers the larger/broader perils of drought, floods, disease etc. The earliest of such insurance was implemented in the U.S (1938). These are generally subsidized or provided by Government agencies.

    Crop Income/Revenue Insurance:

    This generally covers the price fluctuations that are rampant during the peak season. These are generally for intra season drops in prices rather than historical benchmarking. Historically benchmarked price support is generally offered by Government agencies and may more appropriately be classed as “support price.”

    (more…)

    Stay Healthy with Fruits

    Posted in Horti-health by Anirudh on the March 4th, 2008

    The present day stress and pollution leads to the production of electronically unbalanced atoms and molecules called free radicles in our body. These free radicles can cause damage to body cells and lead to diseases. The body does have antioxidants against these rogue “oxidant” compounds. When there are too few antioxidants to counteract free radicals, significant damage can occur, leading to a variety of chronic degenerative diseases, ranging from stroke and fibromyalgia, to sinusitis, arthritis, vision problems, and even Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. A poor diet, cigarette smoking, environmental pollutants, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun also increase the free-radical in our body, creating a situation known as “oxidative stress.” Fruits, generally taken as a source of minerals and vitamin also reduce the risk of chronic diseases beyond basic nutritional functions. Fruits are rich source of antioxidants. Over the last several decades, scientists have discovered that the body’s formation of unstable oxygen molecules called free radicals is unavoidable. Every cell produces tens of thousands of them each day. The more familiar antioxidants include vitamins E and C; the carotenoids (such as beta-carotene); selenium; and flavonoids (anthocyanidins, polyphenols, quercetin). All of these are readily supplied by a varied and well-balanced diet. The recommended daily dosages of dietary antioxidants are: 100-400 IU of vitamin E, 17, 000- 50, 000 mg of carotenoids and 250-1,000 mg of vitamin C.

    Antioxidants may help to:

    • Prevent heart disease: Antioxidants such as vitamin E stop the oxidation of “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoprotein; LDL). This is beneficial because once bad cholesterol is oxidized it can become trapped in the artery walls, damaging the lining of the artery and leading to the accumulation of fatty deposits called plaque. Eventually, plaque can build up so much that it narrows the space within the artery. Blood clots may form on the plaque and completely block the flow of blood. In a coronary artery, this will cause a heart attack. In an artery within the brain, the result is a stroke.
    • Control high blood pressure: Antioxidants clear out free-radical molecules and help the blood vessels to stay flexible and able to dilate, which helps in keeping the blood pressure in control.
    • Protect against diabetes-related damage: One of the reasons that diabetes is so important to monitor closely is that it can affect so many organ systems: eyes, kidneys, blood vessels, heart. Diabetes alters the metabolism and results in the production of free radicals, which in turn are responsible for these kinds of damages. The antioxidants can strengthen the defense system against the free radicals.
    • Block the development of certain cancers. Stomach, prostate, colon, breast, bladder, esophageal, and pancreatic–these are just a few of the types of cancer that may be prevented by antioxidants.
    • Slow the effects of aging: Antioxidants may reduce the excessive formation of free radicals that probably play a part in the wrinkling of skin, loss of muscle elasticity, reduced immunity and memory failures. Aging can be prevented but its effects may be reduced with antioxidants.

    A number of important antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables:

    • Vitamin C is plentiful in fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, citrus fruits, strawberries, aonla, guava, red peppers, kiwi, papaya, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
    • Carotenoids are found in orange fruits, papaya and vegetables and in red and dark green vegetables. Apricots, carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are good sources of beta-carotene. Lycopene is found in tomatoes. Lutein is found in dark green leafy vegetables and red peppers. Alpha-carotene is found in pumpkin, carrots, yellow peppers, and winter squash.
    • Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, wheat germ, and dark leafy greens all contain vitamin E. But it’s impossible to get therapeutic amounts of the vitamin from diet alone.
    • Flavonoids are found in a wide array of fruits and vegetables. In particular, beets contain anthocyanidins, green tea contains polyphenols, and apples and onions contain quercetin. Other good flavonoid sources include citrus fruits, berries, and red wine.
    • Apple is fat free, sodium free, cholesterol free, and an excellent source of fiber. It is also a rich source of plant-based antioxidants. Apple and apple juice are two of the best sources of mineral boron, which may promote bone health. It contains natural fruit sugars, mostly in the form of fructose. It has high fiber content; hence, sugars are slowly released into the blood stream, helping maintain steady blood sugar levels. Low fat diets rich in fiber-containing fruits, vegetables and grain products may reduce the risk of some types of cancer. It is an excellent source of fiber. Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in soluble fiber, may reduce the risk of heart disease. Antioxidants found in apple extracts could potentially lower “bad” cholesterol by stimulating the production of its receptors in the liver, which help remove cholesterol from the blood.
    • Amla is one of the richest sources of vitamin C and polyphenols. It is diuretic, laxative and antibiotic. Vitamin C is a very good antioxidant.
    • Bael is a rich source of riboflavin (Vitamin B12) and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). The pulp contains a large amount of mucilage and gum as a result of which it has important curative properties as appetizer and is helpful in stomach problems.
    • Banana fruit contain 20-25 % of total carbohydrate and contain smaller quantities of proteins and fats. It is rich in phosphorus, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. It also contains appreciable amounts of zinc, iron, copper, cobalt, iodine and vitamins (A, C, D, E and B complex). One gram of banana pulp provides 1.7 calories.
      Grapefruit is full of antioxidants. Red Grapefruit has more lycopene (antioxidant) for added value. Grapefruit reduces insulin levels, which is so important in our carbohydrate driven society. That allows our body to work more efficiently.
    • Grapes and grape products contain high levels of antioxidants that protect bad cholesterol against oxidation, and protect the lining of the blood vessel walls. Red grape juice contains compounds that inhibit blood clots. Because of this property grape juice has been recommended for people at risk for heart disease. The pharmacological properties of grape juice come from resveratrol and other flavonoids such as quercetin and catechin. The health-promoting substances in grape juice originate mostly from the skins of grapes, especially red grapes. These compounds also help fight cancer and possess anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, numerous studies indicate that grapes, grape-derived foods or components of grapes may protect against heart disease by:
      • Increasing the resistance of bad cholesterol to oxidation,
      • Decreasing platelet aggregation and arterial lesions and
      • Promoting arterial relaxation and other favorable metabolic effects. Found in red wine, peanuts, blueberries and cranberries, resveratrol is easily absorbed by the human body. The antioxidant properties of resveratrol also offer certain health benefits in the prevention of heart disease and the reduction of lung tissue inflammation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Not only is its concentration in wine extremely variable, but recommending increased consumption of red wine to boost resveratrol intake could certainly do more harm than good. In spite of any beneficial aspects, red wine and other alcoholic beverages pose health risks that include liver damage and physical addiction, hence, we should be cautious while highlighting the good properties of alcoholic beverages like wine, cider and beer.
    • Jamun is useful for the cure of diarrhoea and diabetes. It is helpful in stomachache and has cooling and digestive properties. Jamun seeds contain high phenolics and are prescribed in diabetes, diarrhoea, dysentery, ringworms and blood pressure.
    • Kiwifruit contains good amounts of Vitamin C and Vitamin E. It cleanses the body of impurities helps lower high cholesterol and reduces narrowing of the arteries. Kiwifruit is one of the best sources of Sodium/Potassium in the ideal ratio, magnesium and folic acid. Zinc is also present in kiwifruit, which is important for young boys and men, as it is an ingredient needed to make the hormone testosterone
    • Lemon can be used to preserve food, add flavor, used as an antidote for poison, soften the skin, prevent scurvy and even used to beautify the body (women used them on their lips to make them more colorful). Lemons are a great source of Vitamin B6, iron, and potassium. Rich in antioxidants and pectin, lemons may protect us from free radicals, prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels, and act as an antibacterial in the body. They offer dietary fiber, vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, manganese, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients.
    • Mango is rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene, and Vitamin C. They also contain bioflavonoids that aid our immune system. It also supplies potassium and fibre and are low in calories. The insoluble fibre, abundant in mangoes, helps in elimination of waste and prevents constipation.
    • Oranges are an excellent source of vitamin C. Vitamin C helps prevent scurvy and also aids in the body’s overall natural healing process. Potassium is also present in oranges that play a key role in many important health functions and it provides energy for the body, which is necessary for the body’s growth and maintenance. Oranges are also a good source of folate. This nutrient helps to prevent birth defects and guards against anemia. Eating a medium-size orange provides 28 percent of the recommended daily value for dietary fiber. Oranges are an excellent source, providing more fiber than any of the top 20 consumed fruits or vegetables. Clearly important is the role of soluble fiber in maintaining already healthy cholesterol levels and promoting cardiovascular health.
    • Papaya is a rich source of antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C, which prevents cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The fruit being rich in vitamin A is excellent for skin and eyes. Papaya contains 32 calories per 100 g fruit hence it is good for controlling obesity. The enzyme ‘papain’ present in papaya is helpful in the digestion protein rich fruits.
    • Pomegranate has therapeutic properties due to the presence of betulic acid and urrolic acid and alkaloids viz pseudo-elletierine, pelltierine, isopelleterine and methyl pelletierne. It has use against dysentery, diarrhoea, stomachache, dyspepsia and bronchitis.

    The human body produces antioxidants viz. glutathione, alpha-lipoic acid, and coenzyme Q10 yet, apart from this consumption of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables can help human beings to stay away from chronic diseases. Apart from this eating healthy food will also help people to conserve antioxidants. Fried and barbequed food, fast food, pollution, radiation are the enemies of antioxidants. In the present time, when the people are busy with hectic schedules, skip meals, eat on the run, eat fast food and drink a lot of coffee and soft drinks, inclusion of fruits in their diet can help them to stay healthy.

    Dr. Anirudh Thakur
    (Ph.D. Pomology)
    Assistant Scientist
    Punjab Agriculture University
    Ludhiana, INDIA