Focus Group Discussion on Export Readiness of Vegetables Sector of Bangladesh

The FGD was a part of the research project on Export Readiness funded by KATALYST. The study was conducted by the Bangladesh Foreign Trade Institute. The objective of the focus group discussion was to talk on the research findings and add value to the research work through expert opinions and observations.Officials from different ministries, Department of Agricultural Extension, Hortex Foundation
and other Agro-related organisations were present at the discussion meeting. List of participants is annexed. The discussion was chaired by Mr. Ali Ahmed, CEO of BFTI, and moderated by Mr. AmitavaChakraborty, Director of BFTI.

In the introductory remark, Mr. AmitavaChakraborty mentioned that moreimportance and efforts are neededon vegetables sector of Bangladesh as it has enormous prospect to raise the export earnings. But the export volume is very tiny compared to its saccharin potential. In the last FY 2014-15, Vegetables export from Bangladesh has experienced a negative growth rate of about 30% and continued till the last eight months of the current fiscal year.Identification of reasons causing the negative growth has great importance, according to him. Incorporating, the expert opinion and suggestion, will no doubt, enrich the study, he added.

A brief presentation was made on the findings of the research on Export Readiness of Vegetables of Bangladesh. Mr. Ali Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer of BFTI, presented the paper. The paper discussed the recent facts and trends of vegetables production as well as export of the same from Bangladesh.

In this paper, he cited that Bangladesh could not reach the target of vegetables export and the growth rate was negative in the first 8 months of the fiscal year 2015-16.

The major potential markets and export destinations of vegetables export from Bangladesh with the existing competitions were also mentioned in his presentation. The presentation also highlighted the entry requirements, standards and major obstacles at exports.

The presentation showed that total production of vegetables reached 10.96 million tons in FY 2012-13, which was only 7.40 million tons in FY 2008-09.[Source: BBS]. Citing the source of EPB, it was shown that Export of Vegetables in the first 8 months of the current FY 2015-16 was about $58.07 million, experiencing a negative growth rate of about 40% compared to the same period of last fiscal year.Major vegetables produced in Bangladesh includes Pumpkin, Brinjal, Patal, Potato, Lady’s finger, Jhinga, Bitter gourd, Arum, Puinshak, Chichinga, Cucumber, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Water gourd, Tomato, Radish, Beans etc. Out of those, Potatoes, Tomatoes, Pointed Gourd, Beans, Okra, Eggplant, Cabbage, Cauliflowers and Citrus fruits are the major exportable vegetables. Major export destinations include Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, UK, Kuwait, and Russian Federation etc. In those markets, the main competitors are India, China, UAE, Egypt, Myanmar etc.

According to the findings, the market infrastructural limitations like poor transportation system political uncertainty, poor standards and testing facilities, poor and often unscientific packaging of vegetables for export, constraints at HazratShahjalal International Airport and other ports for exporting vegetables are affecting the exports of vegetables. Constraints at HazratShahjalal International Airport include, lack of loading and unloading facilities, adequate scanning facilities, sufficient storage management, cold storage or warehouse facilities, insufficient cargo space and delay and cancellation of flights.

After the formal presentation, the discussants voiced their opinions and suggestions. Mr. Shubhashish Bose, Director-General, WTO Cell, Ministry of Commerce, alleged lack trained man power; inadequate laboratory facilities in the standard certification institutions, hampering the vegetables export from Bangladesh, as without prior certification access to the international markets is mostly impossible.

He mentioned that gradual decrease in our export share of vegetables is due to lack of proper knowledge of production, post-harvest management, transportation and marketing.

He also stated that Hortex foundation has beenproviding training facilities to 500 farmers to raise their knowledge and awareness on vegetables production and export. The Government of Bangladesh has given highest priority to provide such training programmesto make the farmers more skilled and productive.

In effort to enhance the vegetables export, He implies that a formula has already been developed to remove from betel leavesSalmonella virus, which was obstructing their export to the EU. He also noted that it is becoming extremely difficult to continue and increase our export share of this sector and sustain our business in the global market because of phytosanitary certifications problems.

He also mentioned that Bangladesh has a huge potential to raise the export of Potatoes but due to the existence of Bacteria, Russia has banned potatoes import from Bangladesh. A detailed research work is needed to find out the part of production stage when those Bacteria affects potatoes.
Mr. Fakir Firoz Ahmed, Co-ordinator of Bangladesh Business Promotion Council, showed a training manual, developed by them for better cultivation of vegetables following international standards, which can be useful for the farmers and exporters. Development of capacity in this sector through trainings on production and sanitary and phytosanitary measures is necessary in order to achieve growth, he added.

Mr. BalaiKrishnoHazra, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, spoke of a positive growth in vegetables export in the year 2013-14. He also stressed the fact that Boroi and some other items,which were banned by the importer countries, are being exported without phytosanitary certificates, which hampering the image of the country. He also pointed out the fact that exporters are not always interested in contract farming.

The mismatch between buyer and country specific requirements often generates difficulties, Mr. Md. Ahsan Ullah, Consultant- PRA of DAE referred. Citing the case of a recent incident of potato export to Russia, he stated that Horticulture and DAE do not always work in harmony which creates additional muddles.

Mr. Mitul Kumar Saha, AGM, Hortex Foundation, put emphasis on unavailability of data in doing research. He argued that units and volume of vegetables produced and exported from Bangladesh differ from organisation to organisation. DAE, BBS and EPB are not in sync, which may hampers the reliability of research works.

He mentioned that infrastructural facilities are very much necessary in order to maintain the Cool Chain Refeered Track. During the period 1999-00, our major export destinations for vegetables were England and Italy. At present, England imports a huge amount of vegetables from Ghana to meet its internal demand. On the other hand, at present, Saudi Arabia is the top export destination for Bangladesh.
He also argued that lack of traceability mechanism in the production, transportation, marketing and export of vegetables from Bangladesh is hampering the export growth of vegetables seriously.

Provision of cash incentives and development of regional pack house can be beneficial in boosting vegetables export, he added.
According to Mr. Md. Monjurul Islam, Adviser of BF-VAPEA, poor traditional production methods are responsible for lower exports of vegetables. Green chilli was mentioned to be one of the most potential Bangladeshi items for export, he mentioned.
He stressedthe need for better co-ordination and co-operation among the ministry of agriculture, DAE, Hortex Foundation, producers and exporters for advancement of this sector.

Ms. QuamrunNahar, Additional Deputy Director (Export), PQW, DAE, shared with the panel that the SPS wing is going for full automation in near future, which would definitely increase the buyers’ confidence in Bangladeshi vegetables. She stressed the fact that there is no separate wing for SPS in the DAE and it also lacks capacity. She also proposed to build up some growers’ market with proper storage facilities and proper marketing and linking channels with supermarkets and exporters.

Mr. Abdul Momin, Consultant, Safe food chain, Krishibid Group, recommended zone-wise special activities to foster vegetables export from Bangladesh.

Mechanisation in necessary areas and special policies for production and export of vegetables sector is necessary according to the discussants.
In his final remarks, the Director of BFTI, Mr. AmitavaChakraborty, highlighted that the country needs to be prepared for the additional challenges that would evolve after graduating to a middle-income country as the preferential market access for Bangladesh may be eroded. Combined initiatives with proper synchronisationmay play vital role to enhance the vegetables export of Bangladesh. Highlighting the government initiatives in this sector, he stressed the need for proper utilisation of cash incentives, selection of targeted markets, adoption of standards and synchronising the data.

Mr. Ali Ahmed, CEO of BFTI, concluded the session by thanking the experts for their valuable opinions and for adding value to the research project of BFTI.