By Saurabh Katkurwar
New Delhi, Aug 17 - A slump in the export of perishable commodities such as fruits and vegetables due to high airfreight charges has prodded the government to explore the cost-effective alternative of water transport to boost the trade and give Indian products an edge over their competitors in the international market.
In order to fine-tune the export strategy, the Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) has started experimenting with the transport of perishable commodities to different countries by low-cost shipments.
And it has succeeded in shipping 10 tonnes of bananas from Kochi to Dubai, which reduced transportation charges by a sixth as compared to airfreight.
"We have started the new practice with bananas. Last week, we shipped 10 tonnes of bananas to Dubai in a controlled environment in a week's time. It cost the exporter just Rs 10 per kg while the airfreight would have been be Rs 60 per kg," Apeda Chairman D.K. Singh said.
"We are also going to send one more consignment soon. We are trying to develop a sea protocol for shipping bananas. Once we establish it, the water transport mode will be introduced for other fruits and vegetables."
Incidentally, Apeda has been using water transport for export of non-perishable products such as basmati rice and processed items but it could not be used for perishable items due to their very short shelf-life.
Apeda funded the study by the National Research Centre for Banana (NRCB) to decide various aspects such as preserving the fruit in long-duration ship journeys in a controlled environment, in which specific temperature, humidity and pH level have to be maintained.
"We also sent two of our scientists with the consignment to check the quality of bananas on their arrival in Dubai," Singh said.
In the first consignment, Apeda sent the Nendran variety that has a relatively good shelf-life.
"Now, we are planning to export two different varieties as each variety requires a different set of controlled environment conditions. Subsequently, we will notify the standards for banana exports," Singh said.
Apeda is planning to focus on transporting mangoes and fresh vegetables using the water route once the banana plan is in place.
Apeda had tried to venture into water transport in the past but the plan could never take off.
According to the Apeda's export statement of principal products, export of fresh fruits went up in 2015-16 by almost 40% to 7,98,755 tonnes compared to the previous year. However, it went down by almost 80% to 1,65,103 in 2016-17.
Similarly, export of fresh vegetables saw a hike in 2015-16 by 94% to 36,31,973 tonnes compared to that in 2014-15 but it fell by 86% to 4,87,316 tonnes in 2016-17.
In 2017-18 (April- June), fruit export reached to 2,17,901 tonnes while fresh vegetable was pegged at 7,53,704 tonnes.