A view of Ghazipur vegetable market bustling with activity during a nationwide lockdown in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, in New Delhi
India's fruits and vegetable exports are likely to decline by 30-40 per cent during the ongoing grape and mango season due to global lockdown that has been implemented to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's announcement of a lockdown (a measure similar to curfew) for three weeks beginning March 24 has brought the entire value of fruits and vegetables to a standstill. Despite several efforts to revive mandis, distribute essentials and instruct ports to facilitate exports, the situation is far from normal.
"Farmers have prepared early mango crops - Hapus or alphonso- for exports. Many in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra (the hub of Hapus mango production) had kept their consignments ready for delivery. Several enquiries were received before the lockdown. We hope the government will open exports with some riders. But, most importing markets are shut and this will make it difficult to executing orders. Thus, exports would certainly be hit," said Abid Raien, Director, Raien Fresh Produce, a Navi Mumbai-based fruit and vegetable exporter.
Many exporters have estimated a 30-40 per cent decline in exports this season, as by the time markets open, grape season would be over. Most of the mango export season would also be lost.
The fruit and vegetable trade across India is gradually coming to a standstill due to sealing of state and district borders, which has hit plying of trucks and other carriages to mandis throughout the country. Even after easing the rules, these exporters have not become active. They have to protect themselves and also manage cancellations of orders.
The global lockdown and trade restrictions have forced large-scale cancellation of orders. Actual defaults of exporters and importers would be assessed after opening up the world markets.
"We don't know how long this lockdown will continue. Currently, everything has cme to a halt. Even if the market opens after lockdown, the grape season will be over. The future looks uncertain for India's fruits and vegetables exports," said Rajesh Gumber, Chief Financial Officer, IFC Overseas, a Delhi-based exporter.
Data compiled by the government-owned Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) showed a 16 per cent decline in India's fruit and vegetable exports
at $1 billion for the period between April 2019 and January 2020, from $1.19 billion for the same period the previous year.
India's fruit and vegetable exports
are expected to be hit badly as major import countries including the Middle East, China, United States and European Union, all of which are struggling to deal with Covid-19.
"It takes many years to build a market and many serious efforts to get customers, but few days to destroy them. We don't know whether they would be able to buy from us in future also," said a worried mango farmer from Sindhudurg.
To ease the problems at least on India's ports, the Union Ministry of Shipping has asked its employees to handle essential services and clear consignments wherever possible with adequate care.
Meanwhile, the European Union has eased its norms for import of fruits and vegetables from India under which Indian exporters do not require to submit a physical certificate assuring food safety and animal and plant health standard. Now an online certification will be sufficient.
A city-based fruit exporter said that the relaxation would not have any major impact on India's fruits and vegetables exports being the European Union an insignificant importer of horticulture products from India.