SMART project to bring residue-free vegetables to Pune markets

Partha Sarathi Biswas
Farmers use multiple chemicals in the form of pesticides, growth stimulants. (File)

URBAN consumers in Pune will soon be able to buy fruits and vegetables that are free of any residues of insecticides and other chemicals. The Department of Agriculture, along with the Directorate of Marketing and the Maharashtra State Agriculture Marketing Board (MSAMB), are working towards the creation of a value chain which will make such products available for urban consumers.

While cultivating crops, farmers use multiple chemicals in the form of pesticides, growth stimulants and insecticides, which remain as residue on their produce. However, during exports, these fruits and vegetables have to adhere to the minimum residue limit (MRL) specified by the destination countries.

Farmers time the application of these chemicals so that the final produce adheres to the MRL before exports. In case of grapes and vegetables, most European countries have very strict MRL norms and farmers are cautious about the usage of these chemicals.

But no such tests are conducted in the domestic markets and residue levels in fruits and vegetables is mostly overlooked both by the buyer as well as the seller. Now, as part of the Rs 2,200-crore State of Maharashtra Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) project, the Agriculture Department plans to start such tests and raise awareness in the urban markets of Pune.

The SMART project, funded by the World Bank, aims to create the necessary value chain to transform agribusiness in the state. Under the project Urban Food, the department will try to raise awareness about MRL norms and make the residue0free produce available for urban customers.

The SMART project aims to create a value chain, thereby increasing the income potential of farmers. We hope this project will address that concern as well, said an officer of the Agriculture Department.

He said the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the Food and Drugs Department (FDA) will work together for the project. In its initial phase, the project will be rolled out in the malls and supermarkets of Pune, and fruits and vegetables that adhere to MRL norms will be displayed and sold separately. Necessary certificates will also be displayed to raise awareness about such produce.

At the field-level, awareness will be raised about safe agricultural practices and the grower will be urged to plan the usage of chemicals to reduce residue levels in their produce.

In Pune, the Swami Samarth Farmers Producer Company – which runs 24 farmer weekly markets in Pune and Mumbai has already managed to create a system with nearly 1,600 farmers who exclusively grow organic vegetables.