LAHORE: Headway has been made with reference to extending the shelf life of horticulture produce. This has allowed for the successful shipping of the first ever consignment on a commercial basis. Stakeholders view these developments as a game-changer in the exports of mango as well as other fruits and vegetables, according to sources who are key players in the sector.
Mango season was not profitable for growers this year. However, successful sea-freighting of a consignment to Holland has opened new vistas of trade possibilities for them. The Holland-based importer and other stakeholders have termed the first commercial mango shipment via sea route a major achievement. This will help increase exports of various types of produce and bring in earnings for exporters, observed key players of the horticulture sector.
Pakistan horticulture exports have not seen quantitative improvements mainly due to logistic issues. The country produces above 14 million tonnes of fruit and vegetables annually, of which almost one-third is wasted before it reaches consumers.
High post-harvest losses lower the net income of producers and traders, and also reduce the quantity of produce available in local markets as well as for exports.
Fresh produce exports are less than three percent of Pakistan’s total exports. According to an FAO report, Pakistan horticulture produce prices are 41 percent less than the world average.
Owing to predominant logistic constraints and other issues, Pakistani exporters have so far not been able to penetrate high-end supermarket chains that have a share of approximately 80 percent of the fruit and vegetable sales in the EU and other developed countries.
For example, mango, which is one of the most popular tropical fruits in the world, earns $24 million annually for the national exchequer. Of the total, 60 to 70 percent good quality mangoes are exported to Middle Eastern markets and 15 to 16 percent to European destinations.
The high cost of air-freighting has limited export of fresh produce. According to a study, the air cargo cost to Europe averaged Rs160/kg compared to Rs20/kg by sea during 2009. Moreover, limited availability of cargo space in airplanes poses another problem. Thus, interest in sea-freighting is growing.
Specific protocols must be developed for maintaining fruit quality during long journeys by sea, which is only possible using Controlled Atmosphere (CA) Technology. Stakeholders from various federating units jointly participated in a venture to make arrangements for sea-freighting of horticulture produce and a demand-driven project was prepared by the Punjab Agricultural Research Board (PARB). The 36-month-long project started in 2010 and cost Rs21.159 million. It was headed by Dr. Aman Ullah Malik, professor of horticulture, University of Agriculture Faisalabad (UAF), the National Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFS&T), plant pathology department of UAF and METRO Cash & Carry Pakistan.
The project sought to increase the shelf life of fresh vegetables and fruit for export to distant markets. It was successfully completed this year with the dispatching of Sindhri Mangoes of Murtaza Agriculture Farm, Sindh, via sea route, yielding good results.
It was found that mango varieties have potential for long distance shipments for up to four weeks followed by five to six days of shelf life. Chilies performed better under CA conditions with storability of up to two weeks followed by a two-day shelf life.
The technology on kinoo was not very successful but it was learnt that initial pre-cooling, wax and proper ventilation could increase shelf life.
With regard to apples, it was determined that Kala Kulu and Shin Kulu could be stored for up to nine months followed by a two-week-long shelf life.
A recent breakthrough has been made by sea-freighting a commercial CA shipment of Sindhri Mango using the standard operating procedures developed under this project to the Netherlands. General remarks about the shipment were very good – the fruit was firm, green, and looked and tasted good. There was complete control on disease and the importer expressed interest in importing large volumes of mangoes next year.
Nigel West, commercial director, Total Exotics Europe, a Holland-based importer of mangoes, said in an email that the fruit quality and success of this container was a step in a positive direction for Pakistan.
“I have been in the industry for 32 years and received requests from many companies from Pakistan making many promises and until this year, they have been unable to deliver,” he wrote. “There are many factors that related to this success and every detail was important. Still, we have assessed many ways to improve it.”
The successful arrival of the shipment in 29 days in transit and seven days in shelf life is a breakthrough in the mango export industry. West said this success could only be replicated by paying attention to the protocols and planning involved. With regard to trail shipment, he said, “we still have a long way to go to build the true potential of sea-freighting mangoes from Pakistan.”
Just one 40-feet container of mangoes saved two million rupees in freight charges, compared to the cost of delivering the same by air. Investing Rs20 million in the project to develop SOPs will induce many more containers to be exported.
Officials of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who assisted with the project, expressed optimism about improved logistic arrangements and their far-reaching impact on trade.
Farrukh Mehboob Khan, an official associated with the project, said a shipment of Sindhri Mangoes was successfully sent by sea under CA protocol. After a 27-day journey, the fruit looked and tasted good. The importer reported a total shelf life of 35 days with almost a week’s time for the retailing of the produce.
“As a result of the successful CA shipment – European buyers’ confidence in Pakistani mango has been established,” said Khan. It has also proven that it is technically possible and commercially viable to send mangoes via sea shipments to the mainstream, upper-end markets of Europe.
The success was made possible by interventions designed for all aspects of the mango value chain on a cost share basis with focus on supplying to high-end supermarkets in Europe. These included provision of materials and equipment to establish on-farm packing house infrastructure to extend the fruit’s shelf life for sea shipments to Europe, besides assisting farms with acquiring Global Good Agricultural Practices (GlobalGAP) certification, which is a pre-requisite for entering European mainstream markets.
“With the cold chain now established at the farm, the farmers have better control over their produce and are less prone to advance and distress selling,” he observed.
This will translate into better margins for the farmers as they have now become pivotal players in the export process as owners and growers of the produce, processors of the same and, in some cases, even direct exporters.
Mango farming will become an entrepreneurial activity with linkages in associated sub-sectors of the value chain such as packaging, transportation and technical service provision.
Khan said their strategy took into account the work conducted by PARB. “From their efforts, we were able to identify the constraints that the sector faced in reaching the European mainstream markets,” he said.
“We designed our strategic interventions to address these constraints and have been implementing the same successfully over the last three years.”
Dr Mubarak Ali, chief executive PARB said that the project had successfully determined CA technology for fresh produce and would be beneficial for Pakistani exporters in future. He said a team of scientists and extensive monitoring by PARB made the achievement possible.
A modern CA R&D infrastructure has been developed at the Institute of Horticultural Sciences, UAF to meet the long-term needs in the country.