Exports of vegetables from Bangladesh dropped to three-year low this fiscal year due to a lack of air cargo freighters during the Covid-19 pandemic that caused an almost halt in export to European Union (EU), said insiders.
Vegetable exports fetched US$61 million during the July-February period of the current fiscal year (FY’21), a 55 per cent fall compared to the corresponding period of FY’20.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data, local vegetable exporters earned US$139 million in the same period of FY’20.
Export earnings from vegetables this fiscal year was also 18 per cent less than that of the corresponding period of FY’19, the data showed.
However, overall export earnings from vegetables in FY’20 were $164 million while it was $100 million in FY’19.
The government had set a target to earn $230 million from vegetable exports this fiscal year.
Bangladesh Fruit, Vegetable and Allied Products Exporters’ Association (BFVAPEA) general secretary Mohammad Monsur said shipments of vegetables to European countries dropped drastically this FY due to a lack of air cargo facility during the pandemic.
The demand for Bangladeshi summer vegetables was high in the EU countries but excessive air freight charge had caused an 80 per cent decline in vegetable exports to the continent, he added.
Air freight charge increased following a sharp drop in the number of flights amid the pandemic, he said, adding that air freight charge increased to nearly US$4.0 a kilogram this fiscal year from maximum $1.8 a kg in FY’20.
Countries like India and Vietnam grabbed the lion’s share as exporters of these countries have separate cargo freighters.
Mr Monsur said exports of vegetables to Far East and Middle-East countries mainly led shipment on sea route this FY. “Considering the export volume, cabbage and potato are leading total shipment.”
BFVAPEA had urged the Biman Bangladesh Airlines to provide separate cargo freighter for exporting agricultural produce.
Md Arif Azad Prince, managing director of Masawa Agro Ltd, one of the leading vegetable and potato exporters in the country, said cabbage had become the key exportable vegetable item this FY, considering the volume of exports.
Nearly 9,000 tonnes of cabbage had so far been exported by local exporters. “My company alone made shipment of 3,700 tonnes of cabbage to Malaysia, Singapore and UAE on sea route this year,” he added.
Mr Prince said cabbage was sourced from Bogura, Kushtia and Jashore districts. “Freight charge of ocean-going vessels remains almost static at $500 per 22 tonne which is encouraging many exporters for shipment in Asian markets.”
Apart from the EU, he said, Bangladesh’s vegetables have an export potential in Far East and Middle-East countries.
“But we are yet to bag even 5.0 per cent of the vegetable market in the region due to a lack of export infrastructure.”
He suggested that the authority provide ‘cooling chain’ facility to local exporters at each vegetable hub so that they can source fresh produce easily and maintain the quality of a product.
Mr Prince also said the facilities for loading produce at Chattogram port should be increased which could help boost shipment.
“If the government provides such facilities, we could be able to grab above 20 per cent of the market in the Middle-East and Far-East countries,” he said.
Md Golam Mostafa, proprietor of ID Enterprise, said summer vegetables have a huge demand in the EU countries, especially in UK.
He said exports of local beans, brinjal and different kinds of gourds had declined to 80 per cent this year due to hike in freight charge, lack of air cargo facility as well as high prices of such produce during the July-October period.
Special cargo freighters should be provided to boost shipments both to EU and Middle-East, he added.
Bangladeshi traders export over 70 varieties of vegetables weighing 75,000 tonnes to 0.1 million tonnes annually out of 12.1 million tonnes of production, according to the Hortex Foundation and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).