How India can become the global fruit bowl!

Revolutionizing horticulture in India to make it a global hub for fruits, writes Pankaj Khandelwal, Chairman and Managing Director, INI Farms


Advancement of the horticulture sector in India has been of significant priority in the country’s overall development strategy. An important sub-sector to agriculture, horticulture has grown rapidly, contributing over 30 percent to GDP of agriculture in India.  There has been an increased emphasis from various government initiatives to consider the horticulture sector at par with the industrial sector, in order to ensure substantial income from farming. Doubling farmer’s income, building infrastructure, infuse of technology, agriculture export policy and boosting agricultural research and education, are all steps taken envisioning the growth of the agriculture and its subsectors, and farmer welfare.

India’s diverse climate gives it the advantage to growing many fresh fruits and vegetables all around the year. Currently, it ranks second highest in the production of fruits and vegetables in the world, only after China. This vast production base coupled with logistical advantages to Middle East and South East Asia offers India tremendous opportunities for global export. With the growing demand of worldwide consumers for safe and healthy foods, increased urbanization of societies, the growth in scale and influence of supermarkets, and packaged foods, corporatization of farming, and adoption of sustainable farming practices, there is a huge market potential for India to become the global hub for fruits.

Despite the opportunities, India’s market share globally accounts for only around 1%.  For instance, India is the largest producer of Banana in the world with over 25% share of the world produce. And yet, India does not rank in the top 10 exporters of the fruit globally. The key reasons why Indian fruits don’t often ‘make the cut’ to exports markets is due to the lack of standard quality and safety practices in production and packaging.

In order to capitalize on this market opportunity, India’s horticultural revolution has to be able to invest and implement in research and innovation to gain more efficient methods of crop production, refined post-harvest storage and handling methods, efficient supply chain, and innovative methods of knowledge dissemination to cultivators and consumers alike.

Fruit production faces a range of sustainability issues today, spanning across economic and environmental dimensions. The sustainability in horticultural produce relates to both the use of natural resources, such as water and nutrients, as well as keeping a check on use of compounds such as pesticides that do not compromise the quality of the environment or the safety of the produce.

One of the key challenges for perishable commodities such as fruits in India is managing the scale. Factoring in all the variables such as unprecedented rains, droughts, diseases, the key to round-the-year produce is to ensure distributed production and adequate storage and processing facilities, and maintaining extensive supply chain infrastructure to minimize wastage while adhering to global safety standards.

Technological and infrastructural needs aside, the key step towards maximizing the horticulture potential of our country is to empower the farmer. While technology can be implemented in farms, it is important to imbibe tech into the heart and soul of the traditional Indian farmer. This can be achieved by providing the technical support to the farmer by investing in training and development and educating them on the know-hows of utilizing these best practices to increase their farm-level productivity, creating value for each fruit, and thereby maximizing their profits.

The most successful example of this approach has been the dramatic success of banana exports from India. Starting with nearly zero exports a decade ago, partnerships between private sector players, government and farmers have created a thriving export industry with over 100,000 tons of Cavendish banana exported in 2019 growing at nearly 100% over previous year. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujrat have emerged as large hubs with thousands of farmers trained and educated on export quality production. With implementation of new farming practices and technology usage, farmer profits have increased by over 40%; more than 5,000 direct jobs created; world-class certified food safety standards implemented bringing in financial inclusion as well as social upliftment.

At a time when India is fighting a deepening farmer crisis, a fractured farm economy, there is a paradigm shift happening in Indian agriculture in the shape of a horticulture revolution.

Author: Pankaj Khandelwal, Chairman and Managing Director, INI Farms. Pankaj co-founded InI Farms in 2009. He started his entrepreneurial journey in 2003 with InI Consulting focused on Agriculture, Technology management and entrepreneurship development, Infrastructure and India Entry. Prior to this, he worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Co and as a software developer with Verifone.