Corporates should come forward to work directly with farmers

Priyanka Singh, Director, Taj Agro, opines that corporates should lease out their land and provide better competitive rates to farmers for their products. They should also impart training to horticulturists related to modern technology techniques being employed in horticulture. This would also improve the living standards of farmers to a great extent.

Priyanka Singh, Director, Taj Agro

IBT: How have India’s horticulture exports progressed in the global market over the years? Which are the major product categories where India has been able to penetrate global markets?

Priyanka Singh: India’s horticulture exports have seen phenomenal growth in last few decades due to many positive factors:

  • Our farmers have increased the use of hybrid seeds, plants, saplings, advance sustainable harvesting techniques etc. from research institutes like PUSA; which have high yields as compared to traditional methods of farming. Farmers have now gradually started shifting from traditional farming to horticulture crops such as guavas, bananas, mangoes, dragon fruits etc. This leads to avoid price barriers and oversupply in the market; whilst still keeping demand for the traditional crops and sustainable prices to avoid losses.
  • India’s farmers have now started using new technology for organic manure production, vermicompost, yearly crop diversification, soil testing, green house production of fruits and vegetables, consulting agri scientists via Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), drip water irrigation, solar water pumps etc. This is constantly helping them to produce high value nutritional horticulture products as per global standards and that is why India’s products have niche presence in the international markets.
  • Indian farmers are opting for modern methods of cold storage for high value fruits and farm produce, better transportation, standard packaging in order to meet up export standards. Further, farmers are adapting to ISO 22000 standards along with the standard set by Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).

According to the latest market research and GDP stats, India is becoming one of the major international destinations for quality food procurement and also becoming world’s largest producer of several high value horticulture products and crops like spices, cashew, cashew nut shell liquid, Kashmiri saffron, fruit-vegetable seeds, fresh fruits, vegetable oil, fresh vegetables, processed vegetables, processed fruits and juices, floriculture products, tea, coffee, Ayush/medicinal and herbal products, cocoa, bonsai trees of mango, lychee, Tofu Cheese (Soya) and exotic fruits.

IBT: What markets are we serving presently and what potential markets can be explored for exports? What are the challenges to expanding in these markets?

Priyanka Singh: India is a leading exporter of high value nutritional horticulture products to major MENA destinations like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait etc. Along with it, we can explore European nations like U.K, Germany, France, Sweden, and Russian federation in future.

Major challenges for expansion are as follows:

  1. India needs to form better bilateral trade with major European countries and Russian trade federation.
  2. Transportation cost may be on higher end, which may create issues for large volume exports.
  3. Better facility of inter-transit cold chain storage at shipyards and airports; more promptness at airport and cargo clearance are needed.
  4. Many exotic fruits are cultivated in India’s north east region but due to logistics and low-price margin, farmers are unable to present it globally. Inland rail connectivity may improve logistics in more farming-based zones in India.
  5. Pricing, assured payment and active banking channel needs to be formed, which is till date problem for small agro company exporters as most of companies in Europe don’t trade in Letter of Credit (LC) and bank guarantee.

IBT: What are the major changes in global trade of horticulture post-COVID?

Priyanka Singh: Due to Covid-19, global trade is at an all-time low and the consequent declines in trade and output is a painful consequence for all major business sectors. But restrictions on movement and social distancing, demand and supply chain disruption to slow down the spread of the disease meant that labour supply, transport, food delivery, and travel were directly affected. Whole sectors of global economies have been shut down, including horticulture trade activity.

IBT: What are the opportunities for value addition, and what are the constraints exporters face in this regard?

Priyanka Singh: We have immense potential in horticulture products exports which are relatively lesser known in the international markets like medicinal herbs, essential oils and other high value Ayurvedic offerings from India.

There are a lot of next generation entrepreneurs coming in India in agri based segment, those who have high education and they all use modern technology and internet to promote their business, which is bringing positive feedback and better growth opportunities in the export markets.

Along with this, new age entrepreneurs are educating horticulturists regarding latest market trends, modern sustainable cultivation method, online product promotion, new irrigation techniques, use of mobile based application for information forwarding etc.

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Further; more corporates should come forward in order to work directly with farmers (those are into horticulture) by leasing their land and providing better competitive rates for their products. The corporates could also impart training to horticulturists related to modern technology techniques being employed in horticulture. This would also improve the living standards of farmers to a great extent.

The following constraints are felt by exporters:

  1. No one window approval solution for exporters and various licensing authorities.
  2. Presence of middle man brings additional cost disadvantage for end consumers.
  3. Less cultivation of high value products in horticulture segment despite of having age old tradition of growing medical herbs, Ayurvedic flowers, and exotic honey etc.
  4. Not enough corporate funding and direct purchase from horticulturists of India, especially mango, lychee, guava, banana etc.; which is grown seasonally mostly.
  5. Not enough buyers in horticulture products due to less awareness and advertisement.
  6. Timely transportation is big issue and due to this lots of fruits and vegetables gets wasted every year.
  7. More subsidy is required for dedicated horticulture growing farms to boost high value nutritional products.

IBT: Albeit India produces more fruits & vegetables over cereals, it is the latter which are exported primarily by India? Why is that the case? How can Indian exporters be encouraged to take up horticulture exports?

Priyanka Singh: India is world’s second largest exporter of rice along with cereals like wheat, sorghum, maize, millets etc. since long time as compared to fruits & vegetables, (floriculture and seeds) as our farmers are still into traditional methods of farming, where they give more preference on growing cereals due to lack of knowledge and awareness.

  • Hybrid seeds and saplings of fruits and vegetables are more costly as compared to cereals in India.
  • More subsidy is available for cereal growers / farmers as compared to horticulturists in India.
  • Exports are less mainly due to high cost harvest losses in the food industry
  • There are higher export criteria of sampling and analysis for the presence of pesticides, heavy metals in vegetables and fruits, where Indian farmers are relatively still behind as compared to other nations.
  • Horticulturist needs to work upon more cost-effective cultivation in India to reach more customers globally.
  • needs to reduce various tax slabs for exporters to encourage fruit and vegetable growers; specially some subsidy is required for Air cargo as cereals are mostly shipped through Sea which is more cost effective.
  • Indian horticulture export could be encouraged more by:-
  • Following International packaging standards
  • One window solution for various export related approvals like APEDA registration, (The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority), Importer -Exporter Code (IEC), Phytosanitary Certificate, Halal, The Export Inspection Council (EIC) stock approval, and organic certifications etc.
  • Horticulturists need to work upon collaborations with MNCs directly for gaining business insights of importing countries’ certifications, rules and regulations by organizing teleconferencing, webinar, etc. for mutual business development.
  • Agro based companies which are working closely with farmers, floriculturists, and horticulturists are required to follow SOPs for farm growers, prompt and hygienic transportation, rapid sample lab test, fully automated and organic based farms, and dedicated staff team to handle rapid rejections and complaints of importers as fruits and vegetables are perishable goods as comparatively to cereals which has higher shelf life.
  • Horticulturists in India need more support from FMCG Companies to promote and export premium quality fruits and vegetables like Kiwis, Guava, watermelon, Mango, Banana, mushroom, Celery, Bok Choy, Asparagus, hybrid brinjal and Lettuce etc.
  • Another thing that we must do is increase the level and efficiency of food processing in the agro industry sector. Processed foods are exported in huge quantities across countries and demand is increasing a lot these days. So, focus should be to minimize losses by increasing cold storage efficient transport system etc. and also to focus on our existing food processing infrastructure in the country.

IBT: Which are the top exporters in the world and what can we learn from other countries to boost its horticultural exports?

Priyanka Singh: Top exporting countries in the world are United states of India, Australia, Netherlands, Russia, Israel, Brazil, Denmark etc.

Indian farmers can learn a lot from countries like Israel, Netherlands, USA etc. to boost their crop yield:

  • Systematic management of plant nutritional value is necessary because if a horticulturist does same crop cultivation for many years, the nutrients can be replenished by dead and decaying organic matter; therefore, annual crop rotation, and using organic manure can be proven beneficial for farmers.
  • Growing mix crop could also bring maximum yield in same land.
  • As Indian horticulture should also opt for modern technologies like drip irrigation, water recycling, opting for drone camera for crop and pest management, creating own biofertilizers, manures, self-operated robotic machines for crop harvesting, and most important affordable electronic security sensors could be installed in farm fields for crop protection from Blue bull.

Priyanka Singh is Director at Taj Agro an export-oriented food processing company based in Mumbai, manufacturing & marketing all types of egg powders, protein powder, bulk frozen and IQF fruits and vegetables. The core idea of establishment of Taj Agro has been to connect rural Indian farmers in the supply chain and reduce the exploitation of middle men in the food industry. Also, its existing set of pharma and healthcare customers wanted to procure food products like Basmati Rice, protein powder, egg powder and other such daily commodities, under a trusted brand name with guaranteed quality. The company has earned the reputation of a distinguished exporter and supplier by offering a healthy and hygienic range of agricultural products at highly affordable prices. 

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