Globally, horticulture and agriculture are separate disciplines distinguished by methods of cultivation, culture, custom, perishability and profitability.
In Pakistan, only about six per cent of the total cultivated area is under horticultural crops. The area under fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants is 3.5 per cent, 2.0 per cent and 0.5 per cent respectively. Per capita consumption of fruits and vegetables are 88 grams and 90 grams per day respectively, whereas, World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 450 grams of fruits and vegetables per person per day for a healthy human diet.
So there is a potential demand of 146 kg of fruits and vegetables per capita per annum and to fulfil this demand, 22 million tones of fruits and vegetables are required for a population of 150 million, whereas, the current production of fruits and vegetables is 7.8 million tones. Population growth rate is around three per cent, which requires increase in per hectare production of horticultural commodities to fulfil future needs of the population.
Horticulture provides real opportunities for reducing poverty. Horticultural products requires intensive cultivation requiring more labour than needed for the production of staple crops. Because of extra-care demanded by horticultural crops from land preparation to sowing of harvest, often about two to four times more labour is required compared to the production of cereal crop..
Fruits and vegetables have a comparative advantage, particularly under conditions where arable land is scarce, labour is abundant and markets are accessible The net income of farmers from fruits and vegetables is higher than that from the cereal crops alone. A study in Kenya which sampled small holding farmers revealed that farmers producing for export had net farm incomes five times higher per family member as compared to those who did not grow horticultural products.
Since horticultural producers are better integrated into markets, the horticultural crops contribute to commercialisation of the rural economy, which is characterised by increased trade and marketing. Commercialisation stimulates the rural economy and contributes to the growth and development process, through generation of employment and increasing per unit area productivity. In addition, increasing urbanisation and the needs of growing cities to feed their population will require more attention toward urban and peri-urban horticultural production.
Horticulture seed sector, much neglected, can play a great role in boosting the national economy. Both vegetable and ornamental (seasonal) flower seeds are imported. . A focus on the seed development by both the public and private sectors can help a lot to alleviate poverty by providing employment and minimising cost of production by lowering cost of seed..
Horticulture sector has great potential for income generation through value addition. Only a mango pulp processing unit can also take part in poverty reduction. Similarly dates can be cured and processed to earn a large amount of foreign exchange. Glut in potato market can be avoided by using the surplus in making by products (starch, chips and crisps). There is a potential for perfumery industry as the climate favours rose, jasmine, tuberose and citrus production, which are the back bone of perfumery industry in Europe. Government should provide benefits to both the growers and the unemployed youth by providing them jobs in the processing industry.
Similarly, post harvest is an emerging discipline to deal with the harvested horticultural produce because of their perishability. Harvest and post harvest operations like field heat removal (in mangoes), cleaning, washing, waxing, grading and packing (in both mangoes & kinnow) provide job opportunities to a large number of people increasing participation of women in the labour market of developed economies. Many tasks, such as chopping, washing, labelling, and bar-coding, are being transferred to developing countries and are generating new jobs, especially for women.
Besides, provision of job opportunities to illiterate people, horticulture sector provides a great opportunity to earn foreign exchange by exporting the excess of fresh as well as processed products to international markets. Horticultural produce, fresh as well as processed products are in great demand, both at domestic and international level. Pakistani mango is well established and in great demand in international markets. Moreover, taste and flavour of Pakistani kinnow is matchless. Similarly, there is continuous demand of fresh vegetables, particularly salad crops from gulf countries. Huge earnings are expected if trade in floricultural products like cut flowers, foliage plants and potted plants, are paid due attention by the concerned authorities. At present, global floriculture trade is more than $50 billion.
It is obvious that horticultural production is a highly profitable enterprise which increases employment opportunities and brings about increased commercialisation of rural areas. But, much more efforts are needed to be undertaken to bring resource-poor farmers and landless labourers into this development.
However, there are certain limitations to horticultural production and marketing system. These include inadequate infrastructure (road and transport facilities), limited access to finance by small farmers, limited facilitation in production commodities, storage and marketing, export market restrictions and competition.
A major limitation to horticultural production in many developing countries is the unavailability of good quality seed and other propagation material. Farmers themselves often produce seeds of locally preferred or indigenous varieties, as the individual markets are too small to attract the interest of the private sector.
The lack of proper storage facilities often lead to low or uncertain seed viability and vigour. Fruit growers are facing the problems of uncertified nursery plants which are not true-to-type. Small capital resources and poor market information discourage the development of seed-related agri-business. Capital and risk constraints are also the key factors limiting the adoption of high-value crops by small-scale farmers because these crops are generally much more costly to produce than traditional crops and most of the growers require credit to finance their production.
Horticultural production, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical environment is severely constrained by post- harvest losses. Most of the horticultural crops are highly perishable, restricting the ability of producers to store them to cope with price fluctuations and therefore reduce the profit margin of farmers. Available information indicates that post-harvest losses can be as high as 50 per cent for cabbage and tomato, 40 per cent for head lettuce and cauliflower, 30 per cent for bell pepper in South Asian countries.
New production technologies like tunnel farming and soil-less vegetable and flower production offer a great scope for farmers with small land holdings. By growing off-season vegetables they can earn a lot from a small piece of land. But the heavy initial investment is a hurdle which can be solved if these farmers are given subsidy by the government.
Likewise, nursery business is well flourishing, both of fruit plants as well as ornamental plants. Unfortunately, for fruit plants still there is no certified nursery but it is now under progress in Institute of Horticultural Sciences which will ensure the production of disease-free and true-to-type citrus plants but on a small scale. This project needs expansion and similar projects for other fruit plants should also be started at different locations throughout the country as per requirements of that particular region.
Similarly, due to change of life styles and traditions, interest in the ornamental plants is growing day-by-day. Pattoki in district Qasur is a renowned centre of floricultural crop production but that can not cater the needs of whole country. Therefore, floriculture and nursery business should be started in other parts of the country.
Mushrooms, although not much popular in our country, have a good scope for export. As production of mushrooms requires a small area and waste materials from different crop residues can be used, so it is very cheap to produce these highly nutritive alternatives of the meat. It does not require a highly skilled supervisory staff even house wives can handle a unit easily. So, rural people can be supported by educating and training them in mushroom production technology. Interior plant decoration is also getting momentum due to change in the life styles and particularly ladies can earn a lot by doing interior designing through plants not only in various parties but also in various offices, hotels, hospitals etc.
In Pakistan, about 70 per cent of the population lives in rural areas. They are directly or indirectly involved in agri-business. To ensure the participation of small-scale and resource-poor farmers in the expanding international horticulture markets, policy makers and researchers have to place greater attention toward their needs. By focusing on the following points, government can significantly fulfil the needs of the poor farmers as well as can minimise the problem of poverty: access of resource-poor farmers to credit and capital; dissemination of market price information among farmers; development of the post-harvest facilities at district level; training of growers to produce for competitive global markets; following good agricultural practices (GAP) and broadening of research agenda for agriculture from cereal crops to horticultural crop production.