Vegetable exports fell 3.76 percent, year-on-year, to $77.89 million in the just-concluded fiscal, falling 2.53 percent short of the target for the period.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau, in FY18, the target was set at $80.00 million. In FY17, earning from vegetable exports was $81.03 million.
Vegetable exports are on the decline mainly for the tightening of standards. The export of vegetables to Europe has declined by a quarter, with those to the Middle East lagging due to intense competition.
In fine, Bangladesh’s vegetable exports have continuously been decreasing over the past three years.
Traders involved in vegetable exports say, 60 percent vegetable exports were destined to European Union (EU) countries. Export of vegetables to the EU has almost stopped due to the tightening of Bangladesh’s standards on quality since March last year.
The Middle East became the main market following the fall in vegetable exports to Europe. However, Bangladesh cannot compete with India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Pakistan, as these countries export vegetables to the Middle East by ship or plane at lower costs. That is why the prices of their products are low.
It is known that the EU banned chilli pepper and betel leaves in 2013, due to bacterial identification.
Besides, the EU issued a non-compliance notification for several years on the export of Bangladeshi vegetables after finding existence of insecticide and pesticide in the local produce, to a great extent.
With the issuance of warnings from the EU, the Ministry of Agriculture temporarily banned the export of chilli pepper, plum, bitter gourd and bull’s horns (Chichinga) in March.
Mansur Ahmed, general secretary of Bangladesh Fruits, Vegetables & Allied Products Exporters Association, told Bangladesh Post that higher air freight is one of the major causes for the drop in vegetable exports to EU countries.
He also said almost 50 percent of Bangladesh’s vegetable exports are being made to the EU market, and 90 percent of the demand in the EU is generated in the UK.
“India, Pakistan and Thailand are our main competitors. But their air freight is much lower than ours,” he said.
“Air freight from India to the EU countries is Rs 105 (Tk 122.85) per kg while Bangladeshi exporters have to spend Tk 165-170 per kg,” Mansur Ahmed said. Regarding the failure in complying with the phytosanitary requirements enforced by the buyers, he stressed the need for a regional packaging house to overcome the shortcoming.
“The government has set up a central packing house in the capital’s Shyampur to ensure optimum quality of the fruits and vegetables being shipped abroad,” he said.
“But it is not enough. A regional packaging house is needed to help the exporters meet the requirements of the buyers. Export of betel leaves to the EU remains suspended since the EU halted the import of the item for bacterial contamination,” Mansur added.
Communication with the packaging house in Shyampur is very difficult. Not enough people are appointed. Apart from this, from Shyampur to the airport involves a 5 to 6-hour traffic jam. If another packaging house in the airport area is built, it will be better from us, he said.
A senior officer at the Department of Agricultural Extension told Bangladesh Post that the government established a central packing house at Shyampur in the capital to ensure pest-free exports, and genuine phytosanitary certificates.
The exporters will get other facilities as the packing centre has cooling, sorting, grading, inspection and packaging facilities for fresh produce.
“Besides, the government is trying to create contract farming, in which several steps to control pests have been imposed.”
Bangladesh produces more than 150 types of vegetables and it exports 119 types of vegetable products. Bangladesh is ranked third in the list of vegetable-producing countries.