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Within a decade Arunachal could be Northeast’s largest exporter of agricultural produce, says APAMB CEO
Itanagar: Arunachal Pradesh is preparing to export up to 90 tonnes of oranges to the Middle East starting this month while pumpkin and spices also wait in the wings.
Arunachal Pradesh Agriculture Marketing Board (APAMB)’s CEO Okit Paling and Zulfikar Kadavath the CMD of Dubai-based Lulu Hypermarket, were signatories to a five-year Memorandum of Understanding early November.
Lulu is a leading and diversified business conglomerate with a turnover of $8.5 billion and with over 200 hypermarkets across the globe magnifying the market reach of products from Arunachal Pradesh.
Speaking to Business North East, Arunachal Pradesh Agriculture Marketing Board (APAMB) CEO Okit Paling explained not just the exports but the gamut of activity involved. He said that the MoU will kick-off with orange exports.
"We are expecting 80 to 90 metric tons in one go,” he said. "It will be on the sea route, and our responsibility is till Mumbai, and from there on, Lulu Hypermarket will take over.”
Lulu Hypermarkets will facilitate the export of a diverse range of agriculture and allied sector products from Arunachal Pradesh. It will initially focus on fruit and eventually include other rabi crops as well, said Paling.
Importantly for an early bird exporter like Arunachal Pradesh, the MoU terms appear good. Paling said the MoU is not binding in terms of quantity or pricing. "We are expecting to send out our first consignment of oranges this November," he said.
An excited Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu ‘X’ed: “This agreement paves the way for the supply of oranges and vegetables to Gulf countries, signifying an important milestone in agriculture and market linkage. The MoU shall provide opportunities to our farmers to further extend their market presence on a global scale and also make agriculture more lucrative for them.”
"Quantity and rates will be decided based on how logistics works,” said the CEO. "They will also be based on the prevailing price during the season."
Last year, a trail run of 12 metric tons of oranges was conducted with the Hypermarket to Dubai during the FIFA World Cup. "We wanted the aroma of our oranges to reach outside the country."
Emphasizing and confirming that the oranges are organic, Paling said it was well received, and that in the coming months, organic pumpkin exports will also follow up.
"There is also huge demand for pumpkin," noted Paling.
The APAMB CEO explained that pumpkin has two seasons annually. And that APAMB targets to export in the month of December. “Pumpkin has a longer shelf-life—about five to six months while orange has about 20 days."
The November consignment of oranges from the farmer’s field to the outlet is estimated to take about 17 days. "But it is not impossible,” assured the CEO. "We have done it, and it works."
The traditional practice of agriculture trade in Arunachal Pradesh is such that traders or middlemen go to the farmers and purchase the products. Usually, traders buy the whole farm and all the products. The rates and prices of the products are randomly calculated and given as an average price.
Paling stated that even though it is a win-win situation where the traders buy every piece, in such a situation the rate of the oranges comes to about Rs 1 or 80 paise per orange.
APAMB’s strategy and objective is to provide the price to the farmers three times that of the trader’s offer. The Marketing Board grades the products by each piece, wherein smaller sizes are sold in the local markets and the bigger ones are exported at a higher price.
“The price of the bigger size will come up to about Rs 4 or Rs 5, and the smaller one in the local market will come to about Rs 3,” said CEO Paling. "Products in Arunachal are of good quality. As much as 60% is A- quality grade,” he said confidently, "Farmers are very dedicated and take care of the farm very efficiently.”
Agriculture products in India, at least in the northeast states, are an open market. This does not mean that traders will be stopped from their traditional business. The APAMB will also take over farms, gardens and engage those interested in their marketing initiatives.
"The APAMB will initiate everything from farming to procuring to marketing," said the CEO. "Once we work out the logistics for oranges, the other crops will also follow the same pattern."
For this, APAMB will begin by exploring and experimenting with the logistical issue of clearance.
"We will increase the product line in the next five years,” said Paling. "In the future, we will export ginger, turmeric, cardamom, etc., which are in huge demand in Gulf countries,” he said, mentioning “Pineapple may not be viable for farmers. Prices they quote are too low”.
According to Paling, producers or farmers in Arunachal Pradesh or northest states in general, will have to compete with other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, which are exporting countries. "So we are targeting the Middle East," said APAMB CEO. "The demand is here in the Middle East, and the prices are good,” he said emphasizing the quality, “Products exported and sold through the marketing board indirectly become our brand ambassadors. So we must ensure we produce the best and export quality products.”
The APAMB was initiated in 1996. All this time, the board has been marketing agricultural products across metro cities like Delhi, Kolkatta and other Indian cities.
Even though logistics is one of the main challenges, CEO Paling mentioned that these have eased tremendously over the past few years.
"Connectivity has improved a lot over the years. Even far-flung areas are well connected now,” said Paling. "We can now visualize for future export,” he stated.
"We are aggressively pushing our potential since Arunachal Pradesh has a huge advantage of a large area of farming land. We have the advantage of farming of products ranging from tropical to temperate zone climes,” he said. "From apple to pineapple,” said Paling.
In another 10 years, Paling believes Arunachal will be one of the largest producers and exporters of agriculture crops from NE India.