Pineapple trade in for a boost
The North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited (Neramac), which has been doing its bit to boost the low-volume pineapple business in the region for some time now, has initiated a big plan to help growers while looking forward to closing a crucial deal with Bangladesh.
“We have initiated dialogue with a Bangladesh group to export 400 metric tonnes of pineapples this year. Negotiations are on, and it is likely to happen soon,” Neramac managing director S. Bhattacharjee told The Telegraph.
If the deal materialises, this could be the first ever export of pineapples from Tripura to Bangladesh. The two months’ supply of pineapples will be exported through the Akhaura border.
The problem with pineapples in the Northeast is that the fruit is available for not more than three months a year, whereas it is available throughout the year around the world. In India, coastal Karnataka produces the fruit for more than 10 months a year.
“High density cultivation is yet to be tried in the states in a bigger way. This will bring a great scope for fruit processing industries to run the plants on a commercial footing,” Bhattacharjee said.
He said the pineapple business in the region, including production and processing, amounted to just a few crores. In India, the yield per hectare is 25-30 metric tonnes against 60-90 metric tonnes in Thailand, where a fruit weighs 1.5kg - 2kg compared to the 0.7-1.5kg average in India.
To support the farmers, the corporation has signed a memorandum this year to buy approximately 500 metric tonnes of fresh pineapples from Tripura Pineapple Growers Society at Rs 3.50 per kg. “Procurement will start from the middle of June,” Bhattacharjee said.
The official said a proposal had been drawn up to restructure the corporation’s Tripura juice concentrate plant under the Non-Lapsable Central Pool of Resources to a multi-fruit processing plant to make it viable. The plan is to operate the plant for at least 10 months a year instead of the current two months.
Tripura is the fifth largest producer of pineapples in India and accounts for 9.6 per cent of the country’s total production. Between 2005-06 and 2009-10, pineapple production in Tripura increased from 1.06 lakh metric tonnes to 1.17 lakh metric tonnes, though the productivity decreased from 20.5 metric tonnes per hectare to 17.3 metric tonnes per hectare.
The state produces two varieties of the fruit — kew and queen. While the former is used by food processing industries, the latter is usually used for fresh consumption.
Bhattacharjee said staggered cultivation and hormone treatment had only been tried in a few pineapple-growing areas. “It is high time that the horticulture department concentrates on commercial cultivation so that pineapple growers get good and optimum price all the year round,” he said.
“Poor infrastructure in the region that leads to poor supply chain management and logistics, are some of the issues that create stumbling blocks for taking up the pineapple business in a bigger way,” he added.
Tripura industry minister Jitendra Chowdhury has called upon the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and agricultural scientists to develop ways to increase the production of pineapples, while strongly advocating the adoption of scientific techniques to ensure better returns in terms of revenue.
The minister said there was no dearth of land for extension of pineapple cultivation, as large areas of hilly terrain were vacant.
About 1.8 lakh hectares of land have been distributed among the forest dwellers in the state under the Forest Dwellers Act. This land could well be used for pineapple cultivation.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which had held a meet on the pineapple trade in Agartala last year, has plans to hold a road show to promote the fruit in New Delhi this year.
Bhattacharjee said Horticulture Mission for Northeast and Himalayan states, which has been active in the region for the past couple of years, has not addressed any product-specific protocol for cash crops like pineapple.