As the world’s second largest fresh fruit and vegetable producer, India has a “huge scope” to increase supply into the European market.
That is the assertion of deputy general manager of Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), R. Ravindra, who spoke with PBUK during last week’s Fruit Logistica in Berlin.
As a statutory body established by the Indian Government in the early 1990s, APEDA’s aim has always been to promote exports of agricultural products from India, a large chunk of which is fresh fruit and vegetables.
This has never been more true as the country has turned the corner in terms of expanding and improving its overall agricultural infrastructure to support the wealth of fresh produce – mango, pomegranates, grapes, citrus, bananas, mangosteen, guava, papaya, onions, okra, gourd, mushrooms, chillies, potatoes, ginger and much more – grown across the country’s vast states.
Looking closely at the latest data, Ravindra explains how little India is exporting right now compared against how much it is growing and the potential there is for the future.
“Fresh produce constitutes a major share of Indian exports and in terms of exports to the European market as of now, the total basket of fresh fruit and vegetable export is around 15%; imagine the scope there,” he says.
“We also analyse import data from the EU and it shows around 0.29% from India – a tiny fragment.”
He emphasises the excellent improvements in the country’s infrastructure and growing practises that are leading to higher yields, better farm management as well as cold storage facilities, logistics and exports standards that match any other developed exporting country in the world.
According to the National Horticulture Board, during 2014-15 India produced 86.602 million metric tonnes of fruits and 169,478 million MT of vegetables with last year’s statistics expected to be even higher.
The area under cultivation of fruits stood at 6.1 million hectares while vegetables were cultivated at 9.5 million hectares.
“We would like to achieve, by at least the end of 2019, a much higher market share in the EU, especially in the UK. The EU imports just US$184.23 million from India which constitutes only about 0.29%. I’d like this to increase to at least 3% over the next couple of years.
“We already have a huge strength with our Indian mangoes which are known the world over and grapes which also have a very good reputation in Europe and are exported to EU markets in large quantities.
“Apart from that, we also have pomegranates which are grown across large areas in India and then papaya and some bananas, particularly our baby banana variety which has a higher nutrition value and a longer keeping quality.”
The Netherlands represents around US$98.3 million (£787.9 million) worth of imports, while the UK is the second largest with US$73.12 (£58.5 million) and Germany is approximately US$14 million (£11.2 million).
Meeting stringent EU standards
Ravindra knows only too well the challenges involved with meeting high standards of the UK and EU markets. Growing export-ready produce remains the single biggest challenge for the Indian agricultural at large which has historically been held back by limitations in logistics and post-harvesting practises. But this is no longer the case, explains Ravindra.
“No one wants to see produce being banned or prohibited in any way in the EU so now we are thinking about the positives and not focusing on why historically the numbers have been so low for fresh fruit and vegetables going into Europe – we think of this as an new era.
“How are we to achieve this? We have already identified the areas where we can cultivate export-quality products which includes around 32 clusters in India spread over 15 Federal state governments which we working closely with.
“In these identified clusters we would like to see that an end-to-end approach is followed so that we have the quality raw material for export. That’s the first thing that we are doing and it’s crucial.”
Secondly, Ravindra explains, is continual improvements to post-harvesting. He says, there are now approximately 79 post-harvest facilities including cold store rooms and perishable cargo centres established in all of the exit points (airports and seaports) and in all of the major growing regions including Nashik, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.
“We also support the agricultural entrepreneurs to set up the pre-cooling, processing and handling operations and APEDA is handling the market promotion much more aggressively such as participating at trade events.
“The challenge for us is to continue to strengthen the infrastructure and improve the backwards linkage. In short, India has so much product that is grown, but we need to get the volume of exportable quality up so we can meet the high standards of the EU.
“This cluster approach where we have identified the growing areas, working closely with the Federal Government, growers and exporters will ensure that we have good exportable produce available.”
Finally Ravindra explains how India is now mapping the whole value chain; from the seed, to agronomical practises including the harvesting methodology and how post-harvest handling has to be done correctly in order to enter the value chain.
“We need to look at every step and intervene if necessary in terms of higher capacity building, training farmers and so on in order to fulfil India’s potential.
“We are considered to have the best mango in the world, wonderful grapes, excellent bananas and a whole host of delicious fruit and vegetables, that is not in question.
“The areas where we have fallen down are in post-harvesting and logistics which is why we will continue to focus on these aspects, hit our targets and improve the market share in the UK and Europe.”