Experts discussed the export potential of fresh vegetables to India and other countries in a program. The discussion was based on a research study carried out by South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) at custom points in Bhairahawa, Birgunj, Biratnagar, Jhapa, Dhangadi, Mahendranagar and Nepalgunj with support from SAMARTH-NMDP.
The vegetable export was analyzed from the perspective of supply, demand and issues related with the market. The findings of the field survey and wider consultation with various stakeholders reveal that Nepal’s potential for vegetable export remains largely unexploited.
Presenting the study findings, Senior Consultant of SAWTEE and Former Commerce Secretary, Purushottam Ojha pointed out the problems faced by Nepali traders at border crossing for not being able to meet Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) standard set by India. “There is no proper coordination and harmonization of standards between Nepalese and Indian SPS and technical standards. Lack of integrated laboratories for quality certification and the absence of mutual recognition of accreditation between Nepal and India have left Nepali fresh produce export at the mercy of Indian customs offices”, he said.
He further added that the non-tariff measures which discourage trade through customs have given rise to high incidence of informal trade. The research found that huge amount of fresh vegetables were transported informally through the custom points.
Ojha also insisted on the importance of having proper measures related to Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) to make Nepali vegetables suitable for export not only in India but in third countries as well.
Similarly, while presenting the findings, Neelu Thapa, Program Coordinator at SAWTEE pointed out Nepali vegetables, such as off-season vegetables, bitter gourd, pointed gourd, sponge gourd, and mustard leaf etc. are preferred by Indian consumers for their better quality and could be sold at higher price in Indian market. She further added that Bangladesh could emerge as a lucrative market for Nepali fresh vegetables but high tariff rate of 25 per cent was a discouraging factor. At the same time, potential for exporting vegetables to countries in Middle East is also encouraging, provided Nepali suppliers are able to meet their strict sanitary and technical standards. However, inadequacy in proper marketing of the product, from both public and private sectors, was found to be major hindrance for vegetable export.
The need for capacity building of Nepalese farmers and traders on post-harvest operations and other trainings to enable them to market their produce was also brought up. Inadequacies of PRA mechanisms are the reasons behind low preferences for Nepalese vegetables in the neighboring markets.
The study suggests measures to develop a concerted action agenda that needs to be followed up in order to address the problems related with exporting vegetables and establishing effective linkages with export markets.
Speaking at the program, Commerce Secretary Naindra Prasad Upadhyay also admitted that Nepal’s inability to meet technical and food quality standard has hampered the Nepali fresh produce exports. He suggested more investment in increasing productive capacity of the vegetable producers to meet the domestic demand and for export and also in improving infrastructure in terms of storage facilities and collection centres so that Nepal could ensure consistent supply of vegetables to the international market without being dependent on seasonal booms.
Likewise, Chairman of SAWTEE Dr. Posh Raj Pandey urged the stakeholders to develop mechanisms so that Nepali products could comply with the technical standards set by importers in order to capture the markets available for our products. During the interaction, Chief Executive Officer of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s Agro Enterprise Centre, Pradip Maharjan said that attention needs to be given to lack of proper post-harvest handling of fresh produces which makes Nepali products expensive and uncompetitive in comparison to Indian products.
Similarly, Rabi Sainju, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Commerce, Shabnam Shivakoti, Program Director, Post-harvest Management Directorate, Department of Agriculture and Dr. Hari Dahal, Agriculture Expert and Former Secretary, Government of Nepal also voiced their opinions in the program.
Srijana Rana, Agriculture Portfolio Manager at SAMARTH-NMDP, highlighted the importance of vegetables in effective poverty minimization efforts in Nepal.
The event was participated by various organizations, research institutions, agriculture experts, activists and development partners and saw suggestions such as establishing horticulture promotion boards, creating vegetable export zones, implementing Good Agriculture Practices, among others, for the promotion of vegetable export.