Which Indian state is the country's largest producer of mangoes? And which state produces more chillies, turmeric and oilpalm than any other? The answer to all these is Andhra Pradesh.
The state government under Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has always advertised itself as a land of infotech opportunity and glitzy software technology parks.
But the state's achievements in sectors like horticulture have been equally impressive throughout the '90s. And the state government is now looking to build on that success -- in a big way.
The state is already the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the country after Uttar Pradesh. But the state government has also brought out a mission statement called Vision 2020 which outlines how Andhra Pradesh can become the country's top horticultural state by 2020.
Says Pat Rao, president, BHC Agro: "The government's recent pro-active policies on corporate and contract farming and its schemes like a large-scale micro irrigation project across the state are providing the much-needed impetus to the growth of horticulture."
The goal isn't all that tough. The state's bureaucrats say it can be achieved if horticultural growth stays at around 10 per cent annually. For a start, it tops in mangoes, chillies, turmeric, oilpalm and several categories of citrus fruits. It ranges from second to fifth in another 10 categories.
Take a look at the acreage under horticultural cultivation in the state. It crossed 15.97 lakh (1.597 million) hectares in 2002-03 as against 13.2 lakh (1.32 million) hectares in 1998-99. And that's just for starters. In the next five years, the area under horticultural cultivation should touch around 21.25 acres.
What crops will be grown on this land? About 90 per cent will be fruit and plantation crops only. Vegetables cultivation is still minimal and it's mostly done by small and marginal farmers.
Floriculture also hasn't caught on. That's unlike next-door Karnataka where floriculture is blossoming in a big way.
But before you think Andhra Pradesh is the only state taking horticulture seriously, let us look at the national scenario.
Having clocked a sustained annual growth of above 18 per cent since the mid-1990s, the horticulture sector has come to be viewed as one of the drivers of agricultural growth.
Horticultural output now accounts for almost a fourth of the total agricultural GDP and over half of earnings from agro-exports. India is now the world's second largest producer of fruits and vegetables and the largest of several spices and plantation products.
What is significant is that horticultural crops are being promoted as alternatives to field crops under the agricultural diversification programmes being pursued by almost all states.
But the Andhra Pradesh government is determined to stay ahead of the others. Vision 2020 says that horticulture will be one of the key growth areas for the state.
Also, the government is promising subsidies for farmers who install new technologies like micro-irrigation systems, greenhouses and the use of hybrid technology.
The horticulture sector is expected to account for 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the state's gross state domestic product in the next 10 years, growing at an average rate of 15 per cent. Growth is expected to come mainly from exports and inter-state trade.
Certainly, the state has travelled a long distance in the last few years. It was always famous as a producer of chillies and products like mangoes. But it's only in the last few years that it has established itself as a producer of fruits like grapes and pomegranates.
In fact, the grape growers have gone from strength to strength in recent years. Last year grape exports from Andhra Pradesh grew by a record 87 per cent from 2,250 tonne as against 1,200 tonne in the preceding year. It was a good year for grape farmers because international prices also moved upwards during the year.
This year, however, the grape growers are in a bind because prices have fallen and costs have climbed steeply. Cultivators are also being forced to pay more because they are now trying to adhere to global standards and that's costing a lot.
But the grape growers are developing new ambitions as they grow larger and they are looking for ways to boost their income. For a start they want to cultivate grapes that can be turned into wine and they want the government to set up wine parks in Ranga Reddy or Chittoor districts.
These would be on the lines of what the Maharashtra government has done in Nashik and Pune. The government has already set up agri export zone, in the state's three grape-growing districts but growers say these haven't been any help to them.
What is the government doing in coming months? The action plan for 2003-04 envisages greater prominence for micro-irrigation to make up for dwindling groundwater resources.
Also, the government intends to cover 250,000 hectares under micro-irrigation programmes by 2006-07, covering mainly horticulture and also other crops like sugarcane and mulberry.
This ambitious programme has a Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion) budget. And 500,000 hectares are being targeted to be brought under micro-irrigation in the state.
One major success for the horticulture department has been that despite a severe drought in 2001-02, around 60,000 acres of land were brought under dryland horticulture in Anantapur district alone, while there was an increase of nearly 275,000 acres under horticulture crops.
In other ways too the state government is backing the farmers. It offers incentives like a 50 per cent subsidy on drip and sprinklers and plastic crates.
The strong raft of incentives has helped to persuade farmers to start producing cocoa, oilpalm, gherkins and Indian gooseberry. Even companies like Cadburys, Godrej, SICAL, Palmtech, BHC Agro, Dabur and AV Thomas are getting involved in these initiatives.
Also, with a view on exports, the state government has promoted four AEZs. The AEZ for mangoes exclusively has been set up at Vijayawada, covering Krishna district.
Another AEZ for mango pulp and vegetables (fresh and processed) exists in Chittoor district, and there are AEZs for gherkins in Ranga Reddy, Medak, Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Warangal, Karimnagar and Anantapur districts.
Another initiative by the state government is privatisation of extension services and setting up of horti-business clinics.A pilot scheme is underway to encourage people qualified in horticulture to take up advisory services for the farmers. Assistance up to Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) is being provided to eligible persons under the scheme.