Preparations not enough for mango export plan: experts
Although the government has set an ambitious target to export one lakh tonnes of mango annually within the next three to five years, no meaningful measures have been taken as of yet to achieve this lofty goal.
Bangladesh is the seventh largest mango producing nation in the world with about 25 lakh tonnes of the fruit having been grown across the country last season, according to the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).
However, the country's mango exports for the year stood at about 1,623 tonnes, or just 0.06 per cent of its total production.
It should be noted though that this is still a massive improvement from the 283 tonnes shipped in fiscal 2019-20, when export earnings from mango and associated fruit amounted to $3,287 million.
Considering how insignificant mango exports have been in past years, Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque on August 23 instructed the authorities concerned to prepare a roadmap that would take Bangladesh's annual shipments of the fruit to one lakh tonnes within the next three to five years.
"As the export target is about 25 times higher than the volume of the past season, it is not possible to achieve this goal if the stakeholders fail to execute their plans in time," said Sorof Uddin, a senior scientific officer at Horticulture Research Centre of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in Gazipur.
In order to meet the export target next year, preparations should have been made immediately after the end of last season.
This means that the pruning and training of mango trees should have been completed by September, Uddin said.
Determining the number of farmers that can collectively provide the required quantity of mangoes for export under a contractual basis is also imperative to realise the target.
Besides, the farmers need to be trained by specialists to increase their production capacity to an extent that allows them to meet the export quota in light of Good Agriculture Practices (GAP), he added.
The GAP, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization, are a "collection of principles to apply for on-farm production and post-production processes, resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agriculture products, while taking into account economic, social and environmental sustainability".
But according to various farmers in Chapainawabganj district of Rajshahi, the country's main mango producing region, there are have yet to be any measures taken at the field level to meet the export target.
Salauddin Ahmed, a mango farmer in Bagha upazila of Rajshahi, said he has not seen any efforts in his neighbourhood to ramp up mango production or export since learning about the new export target.
In the past years, mangoes meant for export were taken from a selective crowd, limiting the overall amount for shipment.
"So if such nepotism is not stopped, the export target cannot be fulfilled even in the next 20 years," he added.
Ismail Khan Shamim, general zsecretary of Shibganj Mango Producers Co-operative Society Limited, said a definitive plan on from where, when, and how many mangoes would be collected for export was needed to meet the export target.
For example, the Khisrapati mango variety arrived at markets in Satkhira on May 15 this year. So, details on what type of mango and from which region can be collected in time need to be set in advance.
Md Nazrul Islam, deputy director of the DAE office in Chapainawabganj, said they have been conducting their regular duties and were yet to get any specific roadmap or outline from the higher-ups to execute the export target.
Besides, Islam's counterparts such as KJM Abdul Awal in Rajshahi and Md Nurul Islam in Shatikhra, echoed the same.
Asked whether any activities have been initiated at the field level to increase exports, Md Asadullah, director general of the DAE, said it would begin soon.
"We will initially select how much mango we will export from which area. Moreover, various activities, including following the GAP in mango production, will be started as well," he added.
BARI's Uddin went on to say that a monitoring committee should be formed with representatives of the agriculture and commerce ministries, agriculture researchers, exporters, and farmers to look into whether cultivation is being carried out in the best possible way.
"It is not possible to achieve the export target by collecting mango from a specific region. So, the whole country can be divided into four zones," he said.
For example, Satkhira and Chattogram could make up one zone while another might be comprised of Rajshahi, Chapaiwabganj and Naogaon.
To increase institutional capacity, vapour treatment plants could be established in every district, the senior scientific officer added.
Other impediments to increasing exports include a lack of cargo space and storage facilities at airports.
So, the infrastructure needs to be built up first to achieve this export target, said Ismail Khan Shamim of Shibganj Mango Producers Co-operative Society.
As such, at least five packing houses and five vapour treatment plants should be set up in the country to treat around 100 tonnes of mango per day.
"One plant quarantine station should be set up in each of the packaging houses as well. Then the air cargo facility has to be increased," he added.
Besides, there is no such authority in Bangladesh that provides certificates for GAPs, which is mandatory for mango export.
"So, there should be a proper authority for issuing (GAP) certificates," Shamim said.