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Editorial Articles

Issue no 32, 05-11 November 2022

Horticulture Exports Bearing Fruit the Indian Way


K V Priya

India's horticultural production, which stood at 286 million tonnes (MT) in 2015-16, was logged at 334.60 MT in 2020-21. This whopping increase has helped the country push up its fruit exports by a big margin to more geographical areas in the world, thanks to the APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) and the Central Government. Horticultural production is blossoming across India - quite literally. What is even more important is that, Indian fruit exports, thanks to enhanced production, are making their presence felt in different geographies of the world, bringing in good tidings for all stakeholders. A look at the trajectory of horticulture exports, buffeted by robust production, tells it all. India's horticultural production in 2015-16 stood at 286 million tonnes (MT); in 2016-17 it was 300 MT, in 2017-18, production was pegged at 307 MT, going up to 314 MT in 2018-19. By 2019-20, horticulture output had reached 320 MT and in 2020-21, India witnessed the highest ever horticulture produce of 334.60 MT. India retains its position as the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, globally. Currently, Indian horticulture produce is exported to over 70 countries; primary among them are nations in the Middle East, Southeast and South Asia, the UK, EU member states and the US. By country, India's top three export destinations are UAE (16 percent), Bangladesh (13 percent) and Netherlands (9 percent). More recently exports to African countries have also gone up.

Horticulture Accounts for 33% of Agriculture GVA: According to the National Horticulture Board, Indian horticulture sector contributes about 33% to the agriculture Gross Value Added (GVA), making a very sizeable contribution to the Indian economy. Apart from ensuring the nation's nutritional security, it provides alternate rural employment opportunities, diversification in farm activities, and enhanced income to farmers. No surprise then that for more than eight years, India's horticulture production has continuously outpaced its food grain production. Unlike the Green Revolution, which is limited to a few states such as Haryana, Punjab, and Western Uttar Pradesh, the horticultural revolution is blooming across the Indian landscape, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Millions of farmers in India have adopted horticulture, many of them inclined to switch from cereal-based crops to horticulture crops. Horticulture harvests are cash crops and have two to three production cycles. Good quality fresh produce gets premium price in the domestic market. Vegetables are short duration crops that are mostly grown on small patches of land by marginal farmers, often in less than an acre of land. As farm holdings become increasingly fragmented, production of vegetables ensures quick returns to farmers, compared to traditional crops like rice, wheat, or pulses. Also, wheat and rice require more water, being inherently monsoon-dependent, as compared to horticulture crops.


Better Income Though several gaps remain, what drive the demand for horticultural produce are better income, urbanisation and higher consumption of fruits and vegetables. The global reach of Indian horticulture is not just confined to mangoes and banana. India ranks number two in the production of fruits and vegetables, worldwide. During 2021-22, the total export of fresh fruits stood at around 10.5 lakh MT, valued at US$ 738 million. Grapes occupy the premier position in fresh fruit exports followed by pomegranates, mango, banana, and oranges. The export of grapes constitutes a whopping 41% of the share of total export of fruits. Apart from mango and banana, the other fresh fruits exported last year include pomegranate (US$ 92.3 million-99,043 MT), oranges (US$ 54.2 million-1,19,548 MT), pineapple (US$ 4.45 million-7,665 MT) and guava (US$ 2.71 million-5,339 MT). This significant growth in production has triggered an export-rush for fruits and vegetables to the traditional big markets - United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, and Middle East countries. Despite the COVID pandemic, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), India's apex agriculture promotion body, has pursued its marketing objectives with the European Union (EU) markets resulting in the growth of exports of bananas, grapes, citrus by more than 9% in 2020-21 over 2019-20.

Promisingly, this is just the icing on the Indian horticulture export cake. "Fuelled by a dozen initiatives taken under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, a consistent backer of promoting export of agricultural products, the India horticulture horizon is set to become broader in the coming years" asserts APEDA Chairman Dr M Angamuthu.


APEDA's Crucial Role: To boost India's horticulture exports, APEDA is playing the crucial role of a catalyst. It has initiated several steps like helping exporters through its financial assistance schemes for setting up specialised infrastructure, branding products, market promotion and quality development. To tap potential opportunities for pushing Indian horticultural exports in the global market, APEDA regularly interacts with Indian missions abroad, enabling them to utilize opportunities by organizing Virtual Trade Fairs, where Indian exporters meet importers to discuss possibilities. Keeping in mind the PM's call for 'Vocal For Local' and 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' (selfreliant India), APEDA has been focussing on promotion of exports of locally sourced GItagged as well as indigenous, ethnic agricultural products. A GI or Geographical Indication is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are attributed to that origin. To function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in each given place.

New products and fresh export destinations have been identified and accordingly the trial shipments have been facilitated. During the last two years, export shipments of moringa, patented village rice, red rice, flavoured jaggery powder and organic millets, among others, have taken place. Products such as jamun, dragon fruit, dehydrated mahua flowers, GI varieties of mango, Bhalia wheat from Gujarat, Madurai malli, King chilli (GI), Mihidana, Sitabhog and others, have been exported this year.

APEDA has also managed to push exports from Jammu & Kashmir (J&K); the first consignment of Mishri variety of cherries was shipped from Srinagar to Dubai. Saffron and dry fruits from the UT of J&K to Saudi Arabian FMCG Lulu Group International have been channelized along with sending samples. On the cards is the export of walnuts and apples from J&K. The export of Himalayan millets, Himalayan goat meat and fresh vegetables has been facilitated from Uttarakhand along with apples from Himachal Pradesh, in association with the Himachal Pradesh Horticulture Produce Marketing & Processing Corporation (HPMC). Fresh jackfruit (from Tripura), Burmese grapes, red rice (Assam) and GI-tagged King chilli (Nagaland) have been sourced from the farmers in Northeast India and exported to multiple destinations.

Unexplored Northeast: Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Northeast is unexplored in terms of potentials it offers. Realising this well, APEDA has been regularly interacting with the eight state governments in the region, persuading them for export promotion and effective implementation of Agri Export Policy to harness the potential of fresh Agri produce like Assam lemon, ginger, jackfruit  pineapple, kiwi, and red chilli. To boost exports from this region, fresh jackfruit (from Tripura), Burmese grapes, tender jackfruit; green chilli (Assam) and GI-tagged King chilli (Nagaland) have been sourced from the farmers and exported. The question to ask is this: why are India's exports, despite being a top horticultural producer, so small and less than two per cent in the global market? The overall agricultural production in the country primarily caters to the country's 1.4 billion population since the domestic consumption is very high. The surplus generated in the production of Agri commodities is being exported. India's share in global Agri exports is 2.5 per cent, ranked ninth in world trade. Agri export contributes nearly 14 per cent to India's total merchandise exports. APEDA exports pertaining to Agri products is US$ 24.57 billion out of a total export of Agri products of US$ 50.2 billion during 2021-22. There has been a growth of about 20% in Dollar terms as compared to the same period in the previous year for the April-March period. In the Corona pandemic scenario, APEDA persistently pursued EU markets, resulting in the growth of exports of bananas, onions, grapes, citrus of more than 9% in 2020-21 over the year 2019-20.

Challenges and Constraints: Several challenges and constraints, continue to hamper the export supply chain. These include resolving sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade, market access and tariff issues, provision of quality seeds and nutrients according to the soil quality of each farm and control of excessive use of pesticides by the farmers. Add to it sale of unauthorized pesticides permitting only registered pesticides with proper label claim and declaration of pest free areas, i.e., Ralstonia-free potatoes, removal of Fruits Flies and Stone weevil-free mangoes and Striga-free groundnuts. As horticultural produce is a perishable commodity, it requires post-harvest infrastructure like primary collection centres, cold chains, packhouse and processing units, among other facilities. Above all India needs to address sea protocols for perishables on priority for long distance markets. For example, India has only been able to ship this produce with only 2-4 days transit period. Compare this to what Philippines and Ecuador have achieved in successfully developing sea protocols for exporting bananas for 40 and 24 days of sea journey respectively! To address these and other problems, the union government unveiled a major path breaking initiative in the first ever Agriculture Export Policy (AEP) announced in 2018, which sets its sights high. It aims to push up agricultural exports to US$ 100 billion in the next few years with a stable trade policy regime. It also seeks to diversify the Indian export basket, destinations and boost high value- and value-added agricultural exports, with special focus on perishables.

Key Pillars of AEP

·         To diversify export basket, destinations and boost high value- and value-added agricultural exports, with special focus on perishables.

·         To promote novel, indigenous, organic, ethnic, traditional, and nontraditional Agri products exports.

·         To provide an institutional mechanism for pursuing market access, tackling barriers and deal with sanitary and phytosanitary issues.

·         Strive to increase India's share in the world Agri exports by integrating with the global value chain at the earliest

·         Enable farmers to get the benefit of export opportunities in overseas market.

The idea is to promote and incentivise farm enterprises. One key strategy to achieve this target is the seeking of greater involvement of state governments by focusing on developing clusters, which have the potential for exportoriented production in different Agri-climatic zone across India. Within these clusters, greater thrust is placed on value addition, promotion, and branding of Agri-produce.


Joining hands: To identify and boost the export value chain of these clusters, the National Horticultural Board has joined hands with organizations such as APEDA, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC), Small Farmers' Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC), National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED) and the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India or TRIFED. The objective is to leverage geographic specialisations and promote integrated market-led development. This includes pre-production, post-harvest, logistics, branding, and marketing pertaining to both primary and processed Agri commodities. It also seeks to address the gaps in information-sharing on myriad sanitary issues for export markets. To achieve this, a series of capacity building initiatives have been undertaken. Farm-producing organisations (FPOs) and selfhelp groups are trained as entrepreneurs and transformed as exporters in collaboration with State Agricultural Departments, State Agricultural Universities and Krishi Vigyan Kendras. The following are examples of horticultural trade, which have resulted in pushing up exports and farmers' income


Varanasi Cluster (Fresh Vegetables), Uttar Pradesh: The first trial sea shipment of 14MT fresh vegetables (green chillies) export to Dubai was made in December 2019, after the procurement took place from farmers in the Varanasi cluster region. Exports of around 20,000 MT of Agri products, which includes 5,000 MT fresh fruits; vegetables and approximately 15,000 MT cereals (including Basmati rice) has taken place from the Varanasi region so far

 ·         Anantpur Cluster (Banana), Andhra Pradesh: Five FPOs in a banana cluster identified have been actively cultivating the fruit under contract farming through MoU or agreement with a buy back arrangement with five leading banana exporters.


·         Nagpur Cluster (Orange) Maharashtra: The focus is to increase exports and brand the famous Nagpur orange in the Middle East countries. The first sea consignment of Nagpur oranges(15MT) was shipped to Dubai on February 13, 2020, with adequate VHT facility. The Vapor Heat Treatment or VHT is a system for steadily killing eggs and larvae of fruit flies parasitizing inside the fruit with vapour and heat, without injuring fresh fruits. More than 100MT of oranges have been exported to UAE and supplied to top supermarket chains like the Lulu Super mart and the Safari Mall, Nesto. More than 2,000 MT of fresh mandarin have been exported from Nagpur to Bangladesh


·         Theni Cluster (Banana), Tamil Nadu:  The FPO named Western Ghat Banana Producer Group has been linked for supplying fresh produce for exports to Maldives and Middle East destinations. The cluster approach has created a win-win situation for all as it has led to increase in exports and has doubled the income of the farmers. Farmers engaged in horticulture, whose produce has made it to foreign shores, have gained anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent more than what it fetched them in the local market. The successful model of banana exports from clusters of Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh, Theni in Tamil Nadu and Jalgaon, Solapur, in Maharashtra are being replicated at other places. Other successful models have been grape clusters from Nashik and mango from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The export hub project of vegetable and fruits has been able to demonstrate usefulness of backward and forward linkages. Clusters for banana, pomegranate, mango, grapes, rose onions, potato and orange have been identified in different states as well. Indian horticulture export is subject to competition in international markets from Asian countries like China, Japan, Thailand, and Philippines, among others. Similarly, competition is also stiff from the nine member states of the Commonwealth of Independent Countries (CIS) and the other regions in Africa and America. The absence of bilateral agreements between major importers and India has also proved to be a handicap. APEDA proposes aggressive negotiations for bilateral agreements for turning the stakes in India's favour. APEDA's market access initiatives have helped in reaching Indian mangoes to Japan, Korea, the USA, China, Australia and Malaysia, onions, okra and tomato for Bhutan and grapes and mangoes for Argentina and Mauritius. Similarly, market access for grapes and pomegranates has also been achieved in many potential markets like the USA and Australia. As part of pushing the export envelope, country-specific Agri-export strategy reports have been prepared for 60 nations in consultation with Indian embassies and High Commissions of the respective countries to tap emerging opportunities.


States Get Into the Act: In addition to the Centre's agriculture export policy, several states have unveiled their own Agri export policies, which is likely to boost the ecosystem that is vital for horticultural produce and exports. For instance, 22 states have finalized concrete Agri export plans. These include Maharashtra, U.P., Kerala, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Punjab, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Manipur, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, M.P., Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Goa. The action plans of the remaining six states are at different stages of finalization Extensive use of technology to ensure traceability to farms is being undertaken as it a crucial barrier to horticulture exports from India. APEDA has played a vital role in implementing the following product-specific traceability systems in conformity with the requirements of the importing countries. One of them is GrapeNet, an internet based electronic service offered by APEDA to the stakeholders for facilitating testing and certification of grapes for export from India in compliance with the standards identified by the National Research Centre for Grapes (NRC), Pune, based on consultation with the exporters. GrapeNet collects, stores, and reports forward and backward traces and quality assurance data entered by the stakeholders, i.e., exporters, laboratories, and PSC authorities within the grapes supply chain in India. Similarly, Horti.net, an internet based electronic service, is available for other fruits and vegetables. To bring in enhanced trust and transparency, blockchain technology that covers all the stakeholders involved in the process of export of grapes, has been introduced. Blockchain is an immutable, time-stamped series record of data that is distributed and managed by cluster of computers.


Infrastructure: APEDA is offering financial assistance under the Agriculture and Processed Food Export Promotion Scheme of the Component Infrastructure Development. The scheme has been beneficial for setting up of modern integrated packhouses with facilities, as per requirements of importing countries. In addition, the scheme also covers assistance for purchase of refrigerated vehicles to support the supply chain. These two components have largely helped exporters of fresh horticulture produce like mangoes, pomegranates, grapes, bananas, fresh vegetables, and floriculture sector. The efforts made by APEDA in setting up of 250 export-oriented EU-compliant pack houses in private sector, has won them wide appreciation. Financial assistance provided to state governments under infrastructure development has also enhanced their capacities to export.


The Prevention of Pest and Diseases and Pesticide Residue Control: To overcome the challenge of managing pest and diseases, the central and state governments have come out with standard operating procedures (SOPs) for producing pest free horticultural produce in their region. The SOPs include management of farm practices under Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).


Scientific pre- and postharvest management to avoid losses: Various developments have taken place in pre-and post-harvest management techniques. The strengthening of farmgate coldchain infrastructure has helped formers. The efforts will result in achieving higher productivity and prevent losses. There are some examples like that of bananas, where the produce is sourced from many farmers in contiguous areas. The pre- and post-harvest management is established by companies, processors exporters at the farm gate or in the contiguous areas by using mobile equipment. The management of exports of bananas from the Anantapur region in Andhra Pradesh, establishment of forward linkages and setting up of mobile equipment for pre- and post-harvest installed by the exporters in the production area, has given ample ideas to work on for creating successful models. APEDA Chairman Angamuthu has observed that all the key stakeholders are working hard to ensure that the export promotion policies in the horticultural sector, bear fruit in the years ahead. India is on a good wicket.


(The author is New Delhi based Freelance Journalist writing on current affairs. E-mail: indiadescribe@ gmail.com) Views expressed are personal.