AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE Monday, December 3, 2001, Chandigarh, India
 

Time for agricultural ‘stake-holders’ to unite
P.P.S. Gill
T
HIS is the time of the year when the Centre and the states begin the annual ritual of consultations on the formation of next year’s Budget as also the Annual Plans. It is no secret that the Ministry of Finance holds discussions with representatives of the industry and business, economists and experts.

Eco-friendly strategy to check soil-borne plant diseases
I.M. Sharma
S
OIL is a highly complex system and serves as a natural habitat of numerous micro-organisms, including plant pathogens. Many of the serious plant diseases like root rot, wilts, collar rot, damping off, stalk rot, seedling blight etc. are caused by these soil-borne pathogens, resulting in huge economic losses by outrightly kind both young and grown-up plants.

The varieties and uses of onion
Suraj Bhan Dahiya
V
EGETABLE growing is one of the most important branches of agriculture. Onion among the vegetables does not only adorn the table but also enriches health of the people. It originated somewhere in the middle Asian or the Mediterranean regions. In India it is one of the oldest vegetables.

Imported citrus juices: a boon or bane?
Khushwant Ahluwalia
R
ECENTLY an imported fruit juice company slashed the rates of its 200 ml orange juice pack from Rs 16 to Rs 14. The company’s think-tank must have brainstormed that if the price of packed juice was to be reduced by Rs 2 then how much per cent more of India’s population will be able to consume their orange juice?
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Time for agricultural ‘stake-holders’ to unite
P.P.S. Gill

THIS is the time of the year when the Centre and the states begin the annual ritual of consultations on the formation of next year’s Budget as also the Annual Plans.

It is no secret that the Ministry of Finance holds discussions with representatives of the industry and business, economists and experts. Some of the states also do a similar exercise and at the same time ultimately look up to New Delhi for a larger share of the Centre’s financial cake.

Experience shows that though agriculture and allied sectors deserve a larger share in the Budget, it seldom gets that. But do the farmers who are the real “stake-holders’’ have a say in the making of budget? Of all trades and professions, farming is the only exception where a producer does not decide what price he should demand. He does not even have the power (right) to bargain the cost of inputs used to raise foodgrains what to speak of asking for remunerative price for the produce.

Foodgrain production, in ways more than one, determines the social and economic wellbeing of the people. Given the government-controlled and managed procurement system and public distribution obligation, the farmers have no choice but to accept what is offered.

Therefore, despite being the primary “stake-holders’’ in agriculture, the farmers have neither a choice nor a voice. They remain unorganised and are unable to protect their own interests — political, social and economic. Who would speak for them if they themselves wont? This question has gained ground for quite some time now. In fact, a vociferous “policy recommendation’’ was made at a seminar on “Problems and prospects of agricultural sector development in Punjab’’, organised by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development in January last.

That recommendation reads, “Farmers’ pressure groups need to be created in order to bridge the gap between policy-makers and the situation at the grassroot level. These groups should play a key role in framing the agricultural policies. Efforts should be made to encourage setting up of a ‘chamber of agri-business’ in the country with its state-level chapters. This should not be a government-sponsored organisation, rather be a purely private and farmers’ own set-up. Individual members may have their personal political affiliations, yet this chamber be completely a non-political organisation on the pattern of business and industrial chambers and their federations’’. The reference was to the presence of influential lobbies like the CII.

Something similar has been suggested by the Special Secretary, Planning, Mr H.I.S. Grewal, in his policy analysis module on the agricultural policy of Punjab in the context of stake-holders to the International Development Department of the University of Birmingham, U.K.

Mr Grewal told Agriculture Tribune that agriculture and farm policies have come a long way in Punjab ( in fact the country) since 1947. Despite innumerable commissions and committees and their innumerable suggestions and recommendations on making agriculture profit-oriented, success has been limited.

These recommendations ranged from diversification (crop-oriented), reducing cost of cultivation, direct subsidies, agri-business and agro-processing to value addition to raw produce, improved infrastructure (harvesting, marketing, storage to transportation and public distribution system) etc.

While success has been limited, sustainability of agriculture has been a major concern. There is growing concern for the future of small and marginal farmers (they form the bulk and backbone of agriculture) as also their deeper and wider marginalisation, growing indebtedness and reports of suicides. If the investments in agriculture have been declining and the vagaries of weather playing havoc, the WTO shadow has caused an eclipse.

In this scenario the voice of the “stake-holders’’ has been muffled. Who are the “stake-holders’’? Mr Grewal identifies them—the farmers, tenants and landless, the government, agricultural universities, procurement agencies, mandi board, village money-lenders (ahrtias) and commission agents, consumers those who have and those who do not have the paying capacity to buy food irrespective of the public distribution system, transporter, manufacturer of farm machinery and producer of farm inputs (fertilisers and plant protection chemicals) etc.

Mr Grewal’s hypothesis and synopsis are simple. “Diversification of crops’’ alone will not do. There has to be a comprehensive “integrated rural development’’ blueprint for “overall’’ agricultural progress and prosperity that ensured sustainability and survival of farmers who are producers as well as consumers.

Therefore, all these primary and secondary “stake-holders’’ shall have to put their act together, improve their housekeeping and raise a collective voice that must be heard in the corridors of power in New Delhi and state capitals so that the agriculture and allied sector got what was due to it and what it deserved for the very survival of the people.
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Eco-friendly strategy to check soil-borne plant diseases
I.M. Sharma

SOIL is a highly complex system and serves as a natural habitat of numerous micro-organisms, including plant pathogens. Many of the serious plant diseases like root rot, wilts, collar rot, damping off, stalk rot, seedling blight etc. are caused by these soil-borne pathogens, resulting in huge economic losses by outrightly kind both young and grown-up plants. Most of these diseases become established in soil due to monoculture having narrow genetic base, non-availability of healthy planting material, poor implementation of quarantine measures and lack of knowledge in disease management. Besides, fast changing socio-economic status of the farming community and, at times, with the prevalence of favourable weather conditions such diseases may appear in epiphytotic form. Control of soil-borne plant pathogens is usually hampered due to the fact that the activity of both the inocula of pathogens and lethal agents applied to the soil are affected by physical, chemical and biological factors of the soil. The only short-term remedy to manage these diseases in the nursery, field and plantation crops relies on treatment of planting material/seeds or soil with fungicides/chemicals. Though more oftenly this forms a common recommendation, but fails to provide desired and long-term solution of disease problems. Moreover, the fungicide, which proves more effective in controlling one kind of disease, fails to check other diseases and sometimes even act iatrogenically by increasing the incidence of other disease. The application of combination of different fungicides in thus needed, which is very expensive and cost prohibitive. Further the mobility of these fungicides is very low and mostly the fungicides pathogen. To overcome this, plant pathologists usually suggest repeated drenching of fungicides, that too at high concentration, which is again very expensive and also does not normally achieve expected control. Further the chemical management practices are not only costly but also pollute the soil — water environment and kill the beneficial soil microorganism. Recently, many effective, enviromentally safe, eco-friendly and economically alternative methods of chemicals have been developed for the management of such diseases and among them soil solarisation has been advocated to be an inexpensive, non-hazardous and simple nature gifted method to the mankind.


Schematic outline showing mechanism of disease control by soil solarisation.

Soil solarisation involves the use of solar heat as a lethal agent. It is done by spreading thin transparent polyethylene sheet on soul surface with its margins sealed by dumping a layer of soil along boundary and is particularly done in summer months to achieve the maximum kill of the pathogens or its structures surviving in the soil. It is, thus, a sort of soil disinfectation method aims at controlling the diseases by reducing or eradicating the inoculum existing in the soil prior to plantation. This practice was first developed and used in Israel for the management of many plant pathogens. It is in principle similar to that of artificial soil heating by steam or other methods. These methods unlike soil solarisation need transportation of heat from its sources to field. Contrary to steam sterilisation of soil, heating by using the soil solarisation technique is done at a relatively low temperature and, thus, its effect on living and non-living components of soil is likely to be less drastic. Thus, out of three components of disease, inoculum density is the most affected by soil solarisation either through direct effect of heat or by beneficial microbial processes induced in the soil. It also kills most of weeds and lessen their population for a longer time and, thus, significantly helps in increasing growth and yield of plants.

Effects on:
Soil temperature:
Absorption of solar radiation depends on colour, moisture and texture of soil. The soil with a relatively high thermal capacity results in very slow penetration of heat energy. On an average one square centimetre area outside the earth atmosphere and parallel to its surfact receives 2cal/cm2/min (solar constant) of energy in the form of solar radiation, but only half of it finally reaches the ground. The solar heat that does penetrate the soil surface is stored in the soil but it is lost again at night due to reversal in heat flow/thermal gradient. During solarisation normally the average soil temperature(°C) increases from 36.8 to 51.8, 34.2 to 48.8 and 33.2 to 43.0 at 5, 10 and 20 cm depth of soil, respectively.

Soil moisture: Soil solarisation involves mulching of soil with polyethylene sheet which seals the soil completely. It, thus, conserves and prevents the loss of certain gases in soil. It has also been observed that mulching of soil with polyethlene sheet prevents the loss of soil moisture over non-solarised soil, where there are significant moisture losses to occur up to an extent of 61.39 to 62.98 per cent. Moreover, due to rise in temperature under polyethylene sheet (Av. temperature 51.8 °C at 5 cm soil depth) steaming of water contents takes place which is more penetrating and, thus, kills the pathogen to a greater extent. This further reduces the primary soilborne incoculum, and subsidises development of epiphytotics by preventing/delaying disease appearance.

Pathogen and disease: Since soil solarisation is a non-chemical, biological, cultural practices is possible and promising. There are number of reports authenticating the validity of this method of controlling diseases caused by soil-borne pathogens like phytophthora, pythium, rhizoctonia, fusarium, sclerotium and also the plant parasitic nematodes. During solarisation soils undergo changes in their temperature and moisture regimes, inorganic and organic compositions and physical structure. Cumulative effect of all these induced changes, in turn, affects the biotic components, including pathogen. Thus, it either delays the appearance of disease or checks the development of epiphytotics.

It is, therefore, essential to incorporate this non-chemical method with other methods of disease control to develop an economic, effective, environmentally safe and eco-friendly strategy for the successful management of soil-borne diseases of different crops and nursery plants.
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The varieties and uses of onion
Suraj Bhan Dahiya

VEGETABLE growing is one of the most important branches of agriculture. Onion among the vegetables does not only adorn the table but also enriches health of the people. It originated somewhere in the middle Asian or the Mediterranean regions. In India it is one of the oldest vegetables. It is variously known as ulli (Oriya), villi (Telugu), erangayam (Tamil) eerulli (Malayalam), neeruli, eerulli (Kannad), kanda (Marathi), dungli, kando (Gujarati), piaj (Hindi), etc. The onion is cultivated throughout the country, but Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh are the important onion-producing states.

The area, production, productivity and per capita availability of onion in the country has improved during the past decade by about 50, 11, 239 and 66 per cent, respectively. India now ranks first in area under onion (4.21 lakh hectares) and second in production (5.97 million tonnes) after China and third after the Netherlands and Spain in exports. The development of varieties suited to the kharif season has brought about the revolution in onion production in the country. Further strategy for its production all through the year has also been worked out. While rabi onion harvested in May-June can be kept up to October, the requirement from October-April is met by its kharif season production. The third crop of summer is also raised in a few areas. The total onion production in India was 35.8 lakh tonnes in 1992-93 which increased to 44.3 lakh tonnes in 1997-98 — a rise of over 23 per cent.

According to colours there are many varieties of onions. Desi varieties recommended for sowing are red globe, white globe, yellow globe, white patna, large red, patna red, nasik red, yadgiri or bellary red, dhulia, etc. The exotic varieties are white Portugal, silver skin, Australian brown sweet Spanish, Red Italian, California Early Red, Yellow Bermuda, Ebenezer and Mountain Danvers.

Yellow onions are most popular for mature bulb production and for raw consumption in Rajasthan, while white ones are preferred for green bunch onions and pickling. The white skinned varieties are mild and good flavoured as compared with the red varieties that are relatively more pungent but keep better owing to the presence of catrechol and protocatechic acid in the skin.

Flat onions are more suited to set production and pickling. Other shapes common for onions are long, ovate, oblong and globate. Good storage onions have red skin firm flesh, high dryweight and several outer scales which adhere well in handling. The onion yield varies according to time of sowing, planting material used, variety, manuring, type of soil and its being sown alone or mixed as a cash crop. The yield of the greens varies generally from 22 to 28 quintals per acre. Average yield of bulbs is 38 to 80 quintals per acre. The higher yield, however, goes from 45 to 95 quintals per acre.

The importance of onion in Indian diet has been recognised from ancient times. At the same time, in some households it has been a forbidden diet for long. It is only recently, however, that a systematic study has been made in the light of new knowledge of nutrition with the result that onion has been found to be essential for a balanced diet. Those who do not consume onion suffer from some sort of diseases. The onion, thus, has now become an important ingredient of diet. It is also a useful food for cattle and poultry.

The medicinal uses of onion are also well-known. Onion bulbs with common salt are used as a domestic remedy for colic and scurvy. They are diaretic and emmenagogue in raw state. Roasted or otherwise, onion is applied as a poultice to indolent boils, bruises and wounds. It relieves heat sensation. Bulb juice is used as smelling salts in faintness, infantile convulsions, headache, epileptic and hysterical fits. It is applied locally to allay irritation of insect bites, scorpion stings and also for skin diseases. Mixed with mustard oil in equal proportion, it is a good application in rheumatic pain and other inflammatory swellings. It is eaten to mitigate cough in pthysis, mixed with vinegar it is useful in sore throat cases. Cooked with vinegar it is given in jaundice and in malaria fever, it is eaten twice a day with two or three black peppers with remarkable relief.

Storage of onion is very important. Storage methods vary from region to region. e.g. in Konkan, farmers with small holdings preserve the seed bulbs by braiding the leaves with the bulbs suspended in bundles and hanging them on bamboos or ropes. In some places, special storages with sides of bamboo trellis and grass thatched roofs are constructed to have a free circulation of air in the room to avoid the bulb coming in contact with one other. Sometimes onions are also stored on sand. Under whatever local way they are stored, about 20 to 25 per cent of them are damaged. It has been observed that bulbs could be stored in a healthy condition up to four months at 32°F to 35°F temperatures and at 80 to 85 per cent relative humidity, while at the same temperature and at 60 per cent relative humidity, they can be stored up to six to seven months. Spraying Malefic hydrazide also checks sprouting in onion during storage and by this treatment they remain healthy for eight months. Nowadays onions are kept in cold storage to avoid spoilage.

Nasik is the biggest onion market of the country which normally controls and regulates the onion price and supply. Onion has great export market and the farmers should be encouraged to bring more area under onion cultivation. Agriculture marketing has been the weakest compartment of agriculture and the government is still undecided how to tackle this problem.
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Imported citrus juices: a boon or bane?
Khushwant Ahluwalia

RECENTLY an imported fruit juice company slashed the rates of its 200 ml orange juice pack from Rs 16 to Rs 14. The company’s think-tank must have brainstormed that if the price of packed juice was to be reduced by Rs 2 then how much per cent more of India’s population will be able to consume their orange juice?

Today, India is passing through a phase of liberalisation and this period brings new trends and cultures primarily related to eating, housing and clothing habits. With the introduction and easy availability of imported orange juice in tetra packs, the Indian consumer has responded well by showing an inkling to develop a habit of drinking juices. In a way it is a positive sign that we are witnessing a shift of our populace to more healthy food than carbonated drinks. But such marketing strategies raise immediate questions as to the future and viability of domestic production of citrus, especially for those citrus growers who grow fresh juice varieties.

How one looks at things at the moment is that the juice companies which are promoting their products in India are doing a great favour by spending large sums of money on advertisement and other promotional campaigns to promote the concept of drinking juice as a health drink. Soon these companies over the next couple of years would have established themselves as brands in people’s mind and every sip consumed of their imported orange juice would be detrimental to the domestic citrus industry. If we do not take initiative and fail to convert our domestic production of citrus into a juice industry time is not far when we will witness a decline in demand of domestic citrus products, especially kinnows.

For example, kinnows got a high degree of acceptability in South Indian markets but at a premium. Quality kinnows sell at anything between Rs 35 to Rs 50 a kg in Bangalore. Taking an average of six to seven kinnows per kg and assuming that four kinnows are used to extract one glass of juice, it means that a glass of juice costs nothing less than Rs 20 at home. Common sense says that why would anybody make an extra effort of buying juice when alternately packed juice is available at Rs 62 a litre or even cheaper. In other words the advantage of discovering far-off markets to sell kinnows, to arrest the glut in local markets could be well lost in the near future.

With reference to North India, one can see hundreds of roadside hawkers all along highways selling fresh kinnow and mausami juice. But at the same time in the last couple of years one has seen availability of tetra-packed citrus juices in small townships also.

The question is that why should anybody drink a 200 ml glass of unhygienic kinnow juice from a roadside hawker costing Rs 10 or Rs 12 that has probably 30 per cent water (due to the ice) over a nicely packed imported orange juice which is available at approximately the same price? This means that citrus growers will need to sell their produce at much cheaper prices to remain in competition. But with the cost of production rising every year this is not possible. And with multinationals determined to bring the cost of imported juices even lower and with their capacity to sustain losses over a period of time.

Worldover bulk of citrus is consumed in the form of juice. Citrus owns 60 per cent of share in juice consumption. Citrus’s economic viability depends on its capability to be converted into juice. So we have to realise the urgency of jumping into the fray of becoming a citrus juice producer, for the stage is about to be set by big juice companies where Indians become consumers of citrus juice. Time is opportune for us to capitalise on the advertising and efforts of these companies to promote the concept of juice amongst Indians.

Somehow poor research and development has been unable to introduce citrus varieties that have the potential of being processed, thus ensuring every likelihood that the domestic citrus industry will suffer.

For some this thought may seem far-fetched but if the popularity of foreign orange juice packed in tetra packs is any indication, then it’s hard times for citrus growers of India.

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