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INFOCUS: Agriculture — Horticulture

Tap export potential of fruits & vegetables to reap gains

India ranks second after China in fruit and vegetable production in the world. Diverse agro-climatic conditions guarantee the availability of various varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. However, India’s share in the global horticultural market is abysmal. A world-class logistics and infrastructure ecosystem, along with pre-harvest and post-harvest measures, needs to be in place to boost exports of fruits and vegetables.

Tap export potential of fruits & vegetables to reap gains


BVC Mahajan

THE Green Revolution made India a foodgrain-surplus nation. However, issues such as depletion of groundwater, deterioration in soil fertility and overuse of pesticide and fertilisers cropped up, which led stakeholders to push for diversification of agriculture through other high-value crops such as fruits and vegetables. Consequently, horticulture got a major boost in the diversification roadmap. It has the potential to raise farm income, provide livelihood security and fetch foreign exchange. Small and marginal farmers have spotted lucrative opportunities in cultivating fruits, vegetables and flowers.

India’s total horticulture production is surpassing that of foodgrains. India ranks second (after China) in fruit and vegetable production in the world. Diverse agro-climatic conditions guarantee the availability of various varieties of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Nonetheless, in terms of exports, India is 14th in vegetables and 23rd in fruits, and its share in the global horticultural market is merely 1 per cent. The probable reasons for the below-par show in exports are a lack of quality produce, high pesticide residue or heavy metal toxicity, and poor post-harvest management and marketing infrastructure.

However, the massive production offers India major opportunities for exports. As per a report of the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, the value of fresh fruits and vegetables exported from India has registered a growth of 20 per cent over the last three years — from $1,492.51 million in 2020-21 to $1,791.05 million in 2022-23.

Export of fresh fruits and vegetables from India

Grapes, pomegranates, mangoes, bananas and oranges are the major fruits exported from India, while onions, mixed vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes and green chillies contribute largely to the vegetable export basket. Major destinations for fresh fruits and vegetables are Bangladesh, Iraq, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Oman, Qatar, Sri Lanka, the UAE and the UK. Major destinations for India-processed fruits and vegetables are Bangladesh, China, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, the US and the UAE.

In order to enter the export business in a big way, there are certain practices and regulations which are required to be followed for maintaining an exportable quality of produce.

Good Agricultural Practices (GAP): This is a certification system for agriculture, specifying procedures that must be implemented to produce food for consumers or its further processing that is safe and wholesome, using sustainable methods. Many importing countries as well as domestic buyers, especially organised retailers, are impressing upon producers to implement GAP as a prerequisite for procurement to ensure quality and safety of their produce, both from health and trade perspectives, in the domestic food business as well as for increasing competitiveness in export markets. The Sahyadri Farmer Producer Company, operating in Nashik district of Maharashtra, has excelled in the supply chain of high-value crops like vegetables and fruits, including processing and export. This company is also cultivating grapes by using global GAP technology and exporting the fruit to the US, Europe and West Asia.

International standards: The producers have to comply with world-class quality norms (Codex standards) to avoid rejection from importing countries or buyers. Export to European countries or the US mandates stringent regulation on the pesticide residue levels and heavy metals in fruits and vegetables. The European Commission has a pesticide database where one can learn about acceptable levels of pesticides. A crop is not legally tradable if it exceeds the maximum residue levels (MRLs). Therefore, farmers and traders must comply with MRLs set by importing countries. Every country has its own standard protocol. For example, for the export of mango from India to Japan, the fruit needs to be treated with vapour heat treatment, whereas for export to the US, it needs to irradiate with gamma rays.

Improving cold chain and marketing infrastructure: Infrastructure gaps in the cold chain are a major bottleneck in India which hampers export. Horticulture crops are highly perishable and need proper temperature management during pre-cooling, storage, shipment and distribution to reduce waste, create a surplus for exports and enhance the income of farmers. To facilitate the growth of the cold chain sector, the government is giving financial incentives to stakeholders like the private sector, self-help groups, farmer producer organisations, PSUs, local bodies, cooperatives and APMCs to build cold chains.

Promoting cooperatives and clusters: With a view to enhancing global competitiveness of the Indian horticulture sector, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has announced a programme for horticulture cluster development. The programme aims to achieve holistic growth and development of identified clusters to make them globally competitive. Farmers are required to be made aware of all mandatory requirements as per international standards, such as global GAP, integrated pest management system, sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures to be employed at the farm level for producing significant volume of fruits matching import demands. The absence of stringent adherence to SPS measures right from production to packaging affects export prospects. In the recent past, countries like Japan, Australia and China have imposed a ban on the import of mangoes and grapes from India on account of the presence of certain fruit flies.

A world-class logistics and infrastructure ecosystem, along with pre-harvest and post-harvest measures, including phytosanitary practices and National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL)-accredited quality control laboratories, needs to be in place to boost exports of fruits and vegetables. Capacity-building initiatives at the level of the farmer, the processor and the exporter must also be part of these efforts. The Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) provides financial and technical assistance to exporters of fruits and vegetables under various components of its export promotion scheme. It also assists exporters by regular interactions with Indian missions abroad to assess and tap export opportunities.

The author is Director, Punjab Horticultural Post-harvest Technology Centre, PAU, Ludhiana

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