Right from the moment when a produce is harvested from the farm to the time it takes to be on board for moving to its desired destination, the life of the agricultural produce gets battered at various stages. It is estimated that almost 30-40 per cent of the produce of fruits and vegetables is wasted due to lack of adequate infrastructure for post-harvest handling, transportation and storage. The inadequacy of post-harvest infrastructure facilities and wastage has persistently been underlined as a major bottleneck in boosting export of perishable products from India. Apart from it, the country’s agriculture export policy sometimes gets affected by short term interventions or restraints like ban on export of farm produce in the times of sudden price rise or supply constrictions. Whenever such restraints are imposed, processed and/or value added products have to bear the brunt. Processed food sector and value addition in India forms but a minuscule portion of the overall agri economy and accounts for a small fraction of export of their commodities. Requirement of continuity in policy regime for encouraging investment in processed food sector is therefore an imperative.
In the light of all these problems, the Government, in coordination with Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), has been providing necessary technical inputs and financial assistance. APEDA has taken several initiatives for promoting export of perishable commodities. APEDA has set up common infrastructure facilities like Centres for Perishable Cargo (CPC) at various international airports like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Amritsar, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Goa, Nashik, Vapour Heat Treatment facilities for export of mangoes to Japan and Australia, Irradiation facilities for export of mangoes to USA, integrated pack houses, pre-cooling facilities, high humidity cold stores, Asceptic Packaging Unit and collection centres among others. In addition, exporters, through Scheme of Infrastructure Development, are encouraged for purchase of reefer vans, setting up integrated pack houses, pre-cooling facilities, high humidity cold stores etc. so as to maintain cool chain which ultimately helps in maintaining the quality of the produce exported from India.
Appropriate market intelligence in terms of reliable trade data on demand, supply, season, process etc. is another critical requirement of the exporters to diversify and explore new markets. APEDA has achieved market access for various products in hitherto inaccessible markets such as mango to USA, Japan, Australia and China; grapes and bitter gourd to China, basmati rice to Japan, Mexico and China; mango products to Mexico, livestock products to Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Morocco etc. Packaging is critical for delivery of product in good condition. APEDA has got developed packaging standards and specifications for various fruits, vegetables, cut flowers etc. Exporters using packaging of these standards and specifications are also given financial assistance to the tune of a maximum of Rs. 5 lakhs per annum.
Food safety is a primary concern in international trade. There is an increasing need to provide greater assurance about the safety and quality of food to the end consumers. Paying heed to the concerns of food safety and traceability shown by importing countries, APEDA has introduced traceability system for export of grapes to the EU countries via GrapeNet, pomegranates to EU via AnarNet and organic products via TraceNet. APEDA has encouraged and provided financial assistance to exporters for implementation of food safety standards in various sectors such as meat, poultry and dairy manufacturing units, units manufacturing mango pulp, pickles, dehydrated products etc. APEDA has also introduced a stringent system for recognition of export testing laboratories (23 at present), which has helped in upgrading their testing capabilities in terms of human skills and testing infrastructure.
Research & Development is an important activity with the objective of export enhancement programme. For the benefit of processors/exporters, APEDA gets R&D work conducted through expert institutions in accordance with trade requirement for development of value added products, improvement in processing technologies, development of new varieties etc. High airfreight cost has been a persistently inhibiting factor in enhancing export potential and erodes the production cost advantage in India. High storage and inland transportation costs further aggravate the situation impeding growth in export of agricultural and processed food exports. Through the scheme for Transport Assistance, aid to exporters of horticultural, floriculture, processed food and animal products is extended. To further facilitate the export of perishable agri produce, the Government through the Foreign Trade Policy 2009-14 made a provision for introduction of a Single Window System.
Apart from these initiatives, APEDA has also taken several other export promotion measures for fruits and vegetables from time to time. A number of agri export zones for fruits and vegetables have been set up in different parts of the country. AEZs entail focused channelisation of efforts and assistance in a converged fashion for the overall development of supply and value chain of the identified produce. APEDA also encourages exporters to participate with it in various international trade fairs which offers opportunity to the participants to get exposure and access to business channels overseas, thus augmenting export opportunities. APEDA has initiated a programme for integrated training of horticulture produce for some identified fruits like grapes, mangoes, litchis in selected regions. In the first step, APEDA has selected certain varieties of mangoes from the major producing belt i.e. Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri, Kesar mangoes from Aurangabad. APEDA has implemented the Integrated Training Programme in identified mango areas, response of which have been encouraging. APEDA has also made efforts to establish a semi-commercial facility in India to meet the commercial requirement. In this direction, APEDA received a 1.5 tonne capacity machine to treat 20 feet containers (8-10 tonnes in one-day treatment). This facility has been established by Maharashtra State Agricultural Marketing Board (MSAMB) at Vashi, Mumbai. APEDA has also initiated experiments of Controlled Atmosphere containers for the sea transportation of mangoes to various countries. APEDA has also been providing financial assistance to exporters for packaging, infrastructure development like packhouses, pre-cooling facilities, reefer vans etc, brand publicity through advertisement, purchase of laboratory testing equipment and implementation of quality systems etc. In this way, efforts for upgradation of post-harvest handling, distribution and marketing facilities have been able to cut down on wastages and for preserving the quality of fresh produce.
*The author is a freelance writer.