Tourism blessing a bane for fruit and vegetable exports

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 00:26 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Export standard products adorn plates for tourists 
  • Fruit exports drop 16.3% and vegetables plummet 36.1% in 2015
  • Low production capacity, not marketing for low global presence

By Devin Jayasundera

Sri Lanka’s booming tourism industry is unwittingly undermining fruit and vegetable exports as production suitable for exports is funnelled to hotels and restaurants for the consumption of travellers, experts said, insisting it was creating a supply bottleneck for international markets.

Last year the fruit and vegetable exports sector experienced one of the worst periods in the last five years. In 2015 the fruit exports volume dropped by 16.3% and vegetables exports plummeted 36.1% compared to its previous year. This is in stark difference to the performance in 2014 which saw a volume increase of 16% in fruits and 77% in vegetables. 

 “Some of the good things which are taking place in the country such as the booming tourism sector have unfortunately turned out to02 be an external threat to the fresh fruit export industry” said Lanka Fruits & Vegetable Exporters Association (LFVEA) outgoing Chairman Annes Junaid. The recovering tourism sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the country which is projected to achieve 2 million tourists in 2016.” They are consuming the portion which could have gone into the fresh fruit export market or into the processed industry”.

According to the Export Development Board Sri Lanka only contributes a meagre 0.03% to the international market with export destinations primarily based in the Middle East UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. 

“Selling is the least of our problems, exporting and finding the market for the produce is also the least of our problems, finding the produce to export is the biggest problem we face right now” said Juanid elaborating on the low production capabilities of the industry. “The most important item in our agenda is the enhancement of the supply chain. If we can fix this the market is always there”.

Echoing similar sentiments the newly elected LFVEA Chairman Zuraish Hashim affirmed “It has always been production, production and production.” Referring to EDB’s plans to brand Sri Lankan pineapple which is one of the biggest fruit exports Hashim commented that such campaigns would not be effective if the productive capacity is not there. 

“We are nowhere in the international market. Last year in 2015 we had achieved $60 million worth of exports but this year up to July its only $36 million. In the next two months, when it’s also the tourist season I wouldn’t think we would be able to achieve the target of $60 million,” noted EDB Chairwoman Indira Malwatte.

Major Middle Eastern retailers such as Lulu and Safari have shown interest in establishing supply linkages with Sri Lankan producers and exporters whilst Qatar based Grand Mart has already connected with a local supplier.

Malwatte who has been at the forefront in the agri-export business, believes that it is the supply of the food that is the major concern and not the markets. “They are all looking at products and as you may all know they are looking at quality and competitive prices and sufficient quantity. Their orders are not small. But at least we’ve told them to start small and with their investment for support us to grow”.

To step up production efforts EDB has consulted with Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) and Ministry of Plantations to free up unutilised and underutilised land for commercial cultivation. “The EDB is willing to advertise it next week and calling for expression of interest and depending on the crop and where the land is available the members can apply for it,” said Malwatte.

The EDB has also made leeway to develop the technological aspect of farming to boost productivity levels by encouraging collaboration with farmers in Israel and Netherlands. – Pix by Lasantha Kumara