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Indian Agro Exports to See a Rise Post-COVID-19

May 12, 2020

A webinar on ‘Enhancing Agro Trade Post COVID 19’ was organised by MVIRDC World Trade Center Mumbai. Mr. U. K. Vats, General Manager, APEDA said, “India may export 30,000 - 35,000 tonne of mangoes during the current mango season (April-June 2020) and this is 50% lower than 60,000 tonne that was exported in the year-ago period. India exports 50% of mangoes through sea and another 50% through air to different countries. On account of the worldwide disruption in logistics amidst COVID-19 crisis, India’s shipments of farm commodities have taken a hit. Monthly export volume of perishable goods (which includes fruits, vegetables, seeds of fruits & vegetables and floriculture) has been 1.5 lakh metric tonne during March and April 2020, which is hardly 30% of the monthly volume of 4.25 lakh metric tonne witnessed before the outbreak of COVID-19. I expect the monthly export volume of perishable goods to grow to 50% of pre-crisis level by next month if air freight operations are restored.”

Mr. Vats informed that India’s exports of wheat and rice have grown beyond expectation during the lockdown period because of increase in orders from abroad. Major reason for growth in these exports from India is that China, which is the largest supplier of rice, could not export in last two months.

Mr. Vats informed that APEDA has not received any new application from the industry for subsidy towards packhouse projects since March 2020 because of the lockdown. APEDA provides subsidy up to INR one crore or upto 40% of project cost to exporters for setting up packhouses, which includes facility for grading, sorting, pre-cooling, ripening and processing of fruits.

Speaking about the revival strategy for India’s farm exports, Mr. Vats said after the lockdown period, APEDA will resume its engagement with all state governments in devising an action plan to enhance India’s agro exports to USD 60 billion in the near future. As envisaged under the Agriculture Export Policy (2018) of the central government, APEDA has assisted most state governments in drafting action plan to enhance exports from their states. The progress in this initiative was stalled in recent weeks by COVID-19 crisis.

Sharing information about potential markets for India’s farm commodities, Mr. Vats said, “ASEAN market holds untapped export potential for Indian cereals, groundnut, meat, fresh fruits, value-added cocoa and other processed food. Especially, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam hold great market potential for these agro commodities,” Mr. Vats added.

The webinar focussed on challenges and opportunities in enhancing India’s farm exports in the post COVID-19 world. Senior officials from Export Inspection Council of India, food scientist associations, agriculture startups and large companies such as Jain Farm Fresh shared their views on promoting farm exports from India.

Speaking on this occasion, Ms. Mamta Rani, Deputy Director, Export Inspection Council said, “The Council is negotiating with importing countries to accept online submission of certificate of origin and health certificates. During the lockdown period, we issued 4000 health certificates for agro exports and 6134 certificates of origin.”

Ms. Chinmayee Deulgaonkar, Managing Director, Foodchain ID & Hon. Secretary, AFSTI Mumbai provided an overview on the importance of quality standards and certification of agro exports to overcome non-tariff barriers (NTBs). She said, “NTBs are the cause of rejection of agro products being exported and since the beginning of the year, 137 Indian agro products were rejected. Some of them include peanuts, gluten-free products and guar gum. Social standards, environment requirements, compliance of supply chains to COVID-19 assessment are very crucial when screening agro-product consignments. This would go a long way in ensuring brand image of a country. Such standards are also mandatory to pet food, animal and food equipment exporters.”

Mr. Sunil Awari, General Manager, Namdhari Farm Fresh Pvt. Ltd. highlighted the opportunities that COVID-19 can bring to India’s agro exports. He said, “COVID-19 will bring about a silver lining and big opportunities to agricultural products especially to vegetables and fruits. Indian agro exporters must take advantage of the anti-China sentiment that is growing all over the world. India has the potential to grow varieties of fruits due to its agroclimatic diversity. As a result of this, we should explore the potential to grow non- traditional fruits and vegetables in north-east states and exotic fruits in the foothills of Himalaya. We must explore shorter routes to Russia through Iran for exports.

Speaking about the export performance of his organisation, Mr. Awari said, “We are exporters of fruits and vegetables to various countries mainly Eastern Europe. When flights resumed during the second period of lockdown, we were able to supply vegetables to UK, Australia, besides other countries. Export orders for vegetables have been increasing since COVID-19. Air freight charges increased exponentially from INR 90/120 per kg to 230/260 per kg since the outbreak of the pandemic. Our organsiation has resumed 75 per cent of normal operations.”

Mr. Roshan Shah, Vice President – Sales & Marketing, Jain Farm Fresh Foods explained the importance of contract farming programme of his company. Mr. Shah said, “We have successfully completed 20 years in contract farming programme. Initially we starting working with Indian onion farmers by supporting high quality varieties of onion seeds and best agro practices. After gaining success, we applied the technique to mango production and now we are one of the largest processors of mangoes. This enabled us to help approximately one lakh mango farmers in India. We are foraying into citrus processing and are creating a facility to make India an export hub of citrus concentrates.”

Mr. Satoshi Nagata, Chief Strategy Officer, Sagri Bengaluru Pvt Ltd emphasised on the importance of food traceability in building trust of importers in quality and safety of food products. Sagri Bengaluru is the subsidiary of the Japanese based startup Sagri, which is the first enterprise to enter India under the Japan-India Startup platform.

The webinar was moderated by Dr. Arpita Mukherjee, Professor, ICRIER.

Mr. Vijay Kalantri, Vice Chairman, MVIRDC World Trade Center Mumbai said, “India is the second largest producer of food grains and fruits; yet, it holds only 9th rank in exports of agricultural goods. India is an agrarian economy and 60 per cent of the population is engaged in this sector. If DMIC project involving several states is completed on an urgent basis, it can help speed up exports of agro products with the help of global value chains. The government must provide policies for startups to engage in agro product sector. Steps must also be taken to reduce food wastage by providing efficient logistics and cold storage facilities for enhancing agro exports.”

While lauding the government’s efforts in providing food and other essentials during the pandemic, Mr. Kalantri said, “The government has taken all efforts to ensure that there is a regular flow of food items in markets, however a lot still needs to be done to ensure that the farmer gets his fair price, as the middle men and intermediaries stand to benefit rather than the farmer. An overall system must be put into place ensuring that pilferages do not take place.”