Nipah virus may dent India's fruit exports, kills 10 in Kerala

A rare, brain-damaging virus has killed at least 10 people in Kerala, where medical crews are scrambling to manage the spread of the deadly disease — and to minimise panic. Fruit exporters are also more concerned about their falling prospects in the current season.

The deadly virus is contagious and currently has no vaccine for humans or animals.

The natural host of the virus is a fruit bat of the Pteropodidae family, according to the World Health Organization. A prominent member of the species, the Greater Indian Fruit Bat inhabits large patches of the South Asian subcontinent and may transfer the disease to humans when they consume fruit on trees. Unfortunately for exporters, the bats are ‘generalist’ feeders, eating any fruit they can potentially find, according to a research paper by S Ezhil Vendan and B Kaleeswaran at the Research Center for Biological Sciences in Madurai. “We are keeping an eye on the developments. If the situation persists, we may have to ask our agencies to do a formal assessment of whether this will hurt India's export potential,” a commerce ministry official said.

Fruit bats have a serious taste for all types of fruit ranging from bananas to mangoes, dates, avocados, wild dates and any type of pulpy fruit. For India, in the fruit segment, cashewnuts are the largest foreign exchange earner, with $856 million worth of exports in the last financial year. This is followed by the $230 million worth of fresh or dried grapes.

India’s overall fruit exports stood at $1.61 billion in the April-February period of the last financial year. This was lower than the $1.73 billion worth of fruit exported from the country in 2016-17. 

Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia on Tuesday said that India exports mangoes to more than 50 countries and has reached to an export of 52,761 million tonnes in 2016-17. The government is currently in the process of finalising the draft agriculture export policy which aims for a stable export policy regime for farm products and streamlining of the current regulations as part of the changes to double agri export to $60 billion by 2022.

The draft policy will also be pushing to put India on the list of top 10 agriculture commodities exporting nations, while doubling India’s share of global export in the category.

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