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Horticulture sector comprises of fruits, vegetables, ornamentals,    medicinal and aromatic plants and mushrooms. Horticulture is the way to go for meeting the nutritional needs of the growing population and also to improve the income of the farmers. Indian Horticulture has grown by leaps and bounds since independence, thanks to the hard work of farmers and timely scientific and policy interventions in the country. Horticulture production has surpassed agriculture production for the last 12 years, today the production stands at 329 million tons from an area of 27 million hectares, and since independence horticulture production has grown seven-fold in terms of volume and value, and this has helped in moving from food security to nutrition security. Over the years, India has emerged as a major producer of horticultural crops and the share of horticulture in the economy has been increasing. At present the total contribution of horticulture to national economy is over INR.10 lakh crores annually. As horticultural commodities are produced seasonally and are perishable, it registers fluctuation of prices and supply. Efforts are made to provide best marketing ecosystem including building of cold chain infrastructure in the country. With access to knowledge and new technology, younger farmers are getting attracted to precision farming, value addition and there by generating better incomes. This also helps in tapping the export opportunities and restricting imports in certain cases.

I wish to provide a brief of three new initiatives at the Institute in this issue of the Newsletter.

Arka Samachar: ICAR-Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR) is mandated to develop and disseminate technologies pertaining to fruits, vegetables, ornamental crops, post-harvest technologies and mushroom. ICAR-IIHR employs many modes to disseminate these varieties and technologies developed among farmers and other stakeholders through demonstrations, on-farm trials, training, field days, exhibitions, print and electronic media and social media. Among these modes, electronic media such as radio and television, as well as social media such as YouTube, Facebook etc., have the potential to reach a larger audience with technical content designed through multimedia applications. So, to utilize such media, Arka Samachar was envisaged to broadcast through special slots in Doordarshan, All India Radio (every month), and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/IIHRMM) and Facebook.

Arka Vyapaar: ICAR-IIHR is serving as a single stop solution to all horticultural research needs, generating knowledge and developing solutions, fulfilling the aspiration of hortipreuners in India. While the production aspects of horticulture are addressed, marketing in horticulture remains a major problem, as in other agriculture sectors. Considering the needs and aspirations of horticultural farmers and the marketing problems faced by them due to middlemen, seasonality, exploitation and a plethora of other problems, the Arka Vyapaar android based app, suitable for version 4.1 and above, was conceived and designed as a direct marketing platform for buyers and sellers across India on a single virtual platform. Arka Vyapaar is simple, user-friendly, linking farmers to markets, buyers and aggregators, breaking the conventional marketing channels, irrespective of volume, type of produce and seasonality. It is designed with a simple interface which is activated after a registration process, based on mobile and Aadhaar link based authentication. Once registered the services of Arka Vyapaar is open to the users either as a seller or buyer. However, the Institute does not take any responsibility for the transactions subsequently made by the linked partners, and the app is only a platform to link the buyers and sellers. Presently the service is free of cost.

ICAR-IIHR Online Seed Portal: The Institute produces annually more than 20 tons of quality seeds of fruit, vegetable and flower crop varieties developed by the Institute to cater to the demands of Indian farmers. The seeds produced by the Institute are sold under the brand name “Arka Seeds”. In order to meet the seed requirements of the farmers and provide faster client access for seeds all over India, ICAR-IIHR has designed and developed ‘ICAR-IIHR Seed Portal’ (https://seed.iihr.res.in) for online sale of seeds of Institute-developed varieties of vegetable crops. Further, this online seed portal is now integrated with SBI YONO Krishi web application.

The Seed Portal is simple, e-security compliant and user friendly, and helpful in providing accountability, traceability and transparency in seed dealings. The portal’s look and functionality are similar to that of any other commercial e-business portals available. For the online sale of seeds, the portal is equipped with providing farmers options for seed cataloguing, seed browsing crop- and variety-wise and shopping cart portlet. It also provides information to farmers about the variety suitability for different agro-climatic zones. Special features associated with the portal is harvesting of farmers’ information - region, district and state-wise - through initial customer registration and validation, that helps in populating information on the spread of Institute developed varieties across the geographical area instantly and precisely. This e-commerce portal has capability of capturing back end information on farmers, seed lot, seed sorting and grading, seed testing and retesting for quality, seed packing and storage for seed processing. Its feedback option aids scientists in fetching information on performance of varieties, and addressing queries raised by farmers. Since the launch of online seed portal i.e., from May 2020 till July, 2021 around INR.86 lakhs worth quality seeds has been delivered to farmers from almost all the states and union territories of the country at their door step, the service was appreciated especially during the peak Covid-19 outbreak.