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India gains a foothold in the international fruit and vegetable market

With an annual output of 127 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables, India lies second in the world producing country rankings, after China. Since the end of the 1990s, it has been eyeing up the export markets, in the hope of gaining in international visibility and repute.

However, yields are still low, and most of what is produced is either consumed in India or lost as a result of poor postharvest management. Moreover, barely 2% of the fruit and vegetable crop is processed, and India accounts for just 1.2% of international trade in these products.

In April, CIRAD’s Fruit and Horticultural Crops Department (FLHOR) received a new remit from APEDA (Agricultural and processed food Products Export Development Authority), a branch of the Indian Ministry of Trade. Its task is to optimize cropping with a view to exporting tropical (okra or lady’s finger, bitter melon and pointed gourd) and European vegetables (mangetout peas, French beans, mini-sweetcorn, sweetcorn, etc).

CIRAD’s researchers are basing their work on a similar project conducted with APEDA for lychees between 1998 and 2003. The aim was to set up an export chain to Europe. This initial project was a huge success: in 2003, 350 tonnes of lychees were exported, compared to 5 tonnes in 1998. Moreover, given the difference in hemisphere, they were exported in the off-season in relation to supplies from Madagascar and Réunion. More recently, CIRAD also worked to establish a pineapple export chain to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. The first containers were shipped in December 2005.

CIRAD is required to use field observations and produce technical advice notes to advise farmers and enable them to ensure that their products satisfy the standards imposed by importing countries. For instance, this concerns the phytosanitary products used, types of packaging, public health criteria and also child labour. "Diseases, inappropriate fertilizer rates, nutrient (iron, nitrogen, etc) deficiencies or surpluses, transport and traceability; we assess and correct all kinds of problems", explains Christian Didier, project leader at CIRAD-FLHOR. "Thanks to the progress made on export crops, quality standards for all fruit and vegetables crops will also progress", he adds. Development staff have been trained to follow up farmers in the field, throughout the year. CIRAD is also involved in setting up research stations, as was the case with lychees in Bihar State, which accounts for 75% of national output.

Christian Didier | alfa
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