Andhra Pradesh is going bananas with its banana production.
The state, which is India’s largest producer of the humble fruit, is surpassing its own records, thanks to a series of initiatives both by the government and private sector in the last three years.
Latest figures show that Andhra was India’s No.1 banana-producing state last year with an output of 68.85 lakh million tonnes (MT), extending the lead it took in 2016-17.
Apart from the production, the productivity and quality of bananas has also been improving fast in the state, and in the current financial year 2020-21, it estimates that its exports will rise to 75,000 metric tonnes (MT), 66.67 per cent more than the actual 2019-20 export figure of 45,000 MT.
It’s another impressive jump for Andhra, which, till the middle of the last decade, was no higher than number four among the banana-producing states of India, and till 2016-17, was unable to export bananas due to low quality and lack of facilities to protect the perishable produce. In 2016-17, the export figure was just 246 MT, showing just how sharp the rise has been in the state.
And thanks to this surge in Andhra’s banana exports, the overall figures for India are also increasing, despite the stringent lockdown brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019-20, India exported 1.96 lakh MT, almost 50 per cent more than the previous year’s 1.34 lakh MT.
India is the largest producer of bananas in the world, with a production of 297 lakh MT on 8.4 lakh hectares of land. According to an estimate, 290 lakh MT (97 per cent) is consumed domestically, while another 5 lakh MT or so is lost due to banana’s perishability.
The majority of banana exports from India are to West Asian and North African countries like UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran.
Public private partnership
In 2011-12, Andhra Pradesh was ranked fourth among India’s banana-producing states, with an output of 28.99 lakh MT.
By 2016-17, it had steadily increased its output by 61 per cent to 46.72 lakh MT, before jumping to 50.03 lakh MT in 2017-18, 62.23 lakh MT in 2018-19, and 68.85 lakh MT in 2019-20.
Tamil Nadu, which had led the way a decade ago, witnessed a 48 per cent decline between its 2011-12 figure of 67.36 lakh MT to 34.99 lakh MT in 2016-17, while the second and third-ranked states — Gujarat and Maharashtra — registered a 6 per cent increase and a 9 per cent decrease respectively over the same period.
The area under banana cultivation in Andhra Pradesh also jumped nearly 30 per cent to 1.03 lakh hectares in 2019-20 from 79,360 hectares in 2014-15, while the productivity rose to 60 tonnes per hectare from 44 tonnes per hectare five years ago.
The increase in Andhra’s production and exports took place since the introduction of the public-private agricultural model under the Integrated Agriculture Development plan. Under this model, the state government has helped farmers financially while private firms have provided technological aid. And officials in the Andhra horticulture department credit this PPP intervention as the reason for the rise in banana production and exports.
In fact, the state has received the ‘Banana Export Promotion Award 2020’ from the Indian Council for Agricultural Research’s National Research Centre for Banana, Tiruchirapalli, for its ‘outstanding achievements’ in the export of bananas to West Asia.
“The department is extending support in fruit-care activities, post-harvest infrastructure facilities like mobile pack houses and integrated pack houses, and also taking the responsibility for phytosanitary certificates,” Horticulture Commissioner Chiranjiv Choudhary told ThePrint.
“The department is providing necessary support to the exporters in the identification of banana clusters and other logistics required for promotion of marketing and export of bananas from the state.”
The state government partnered with exporters such as INI Farms, Desai AgriFoods Private Limited, and Mahindra Agri Solutions, which led to a surge in banana exports.
The PPP model enabled fruit-care activities to be conducted in banana clusters, with value chain development at all stages to increase the production, productivity and quality of fruit with the active participation of farmer producer organisations (FPOs).
These activities have helped improve the fruit quality, while the minimum price for bananas has also been increased from Rs 8 to Rs 12 per kg in the local market, which indirectly benefits the banana farmers through increasing and assured returns. Additional employment is also generated for skilled labour.
Horticulture officials said the proposed banana fruit-care activities for this year include adding 500 hectares to the banana cultivation pool, at a cost of Rs 1,140.96 lakh, of which the government’s share would be Rs 376.28 lakh.
Some new technological interventions have also been introduced as part of the fruit-care activities.
These include tissue culture saplings (growing tissues/cells/plants in an artificial medium separate from the parent organism); the right quantity of drip and fertigation at the right stage (this technique saves water and nutrients by allowing water along with fertilisers and other chemical inputs to drip slowly to the roots of plants); dry tip removal (which avoids staining the bananas being grown); ribbon tagging for harvesting; and correct grading and packaging at integrated pack houses for proper handling and transport.
As a result, Andhra Pradesh has seen a rise in its technological application numbers too — the area under tissue culture increased to 50 per cent of the total cropped area in 2018-19 from 20 per cent in 2014-15.
The area under drip irrigation also increased to 0.79 lakh hectares in 2018-19 from 0.45 lakh hectares in 2014-15.
The implementation of technology has increased banana productivity in the state to 60 MT/Hectare from 50 MT/hectare, with a 50 per cent rate increase to Rs 12,000/MT from Rs 8,000/MT. This has led to an overall net additional benefit of Rs 2.90 lakh/hectare for banana cultivation in Andhra Pradesh.
According to Pankaj Khandelwal, chairman and managing director, INI Farms, whose banana exports from Andhra Pradesh increased to 11,000 tons in 2020 from 3,000 tons in 2018: “Earlier, banana produce in Andhra Pradesh came from small farmers, which got easily damaged, thereby hurting export prospects. One of the main reasons behind the crop damage was the ineffective cold chain, the absence of viable value addition or processing facilities.”
The state government, Khandelwal said, reached out to the private firms, which evaluated weather and soil parameters to set up agri-clusters of bananas and provide technical assistance such as crop care and harvesting safeguards. The government was to finance and mobilise farmers for the project.
“The initial investment by the government for the promotion of banana cultivation proved crucial in increasing farmers’ participation. This investment provided the much-needed post-harvest infrastructure too,” he said.
“There were two problems with the banana crop in Andhra Pradesh — one was cosmetic and the other was shelf-life… Now, we ensure that the fruit is protected from pests and diseases. We keep track of every fruit as each ages differently. The fruit is even protected from touching the leaves as that leaves a black mark. This requires a lot of labour and time,” Khandelwal continued.
He added that harvested fruit couldn’t be brought to one place as it would perish quickly.
“We devised a mobile packhouse at farms, which packed fruit harvest at the field itself within one hour of harvest, and in 24 hours it was cooled and stored to travel long distances. With pre- and post-harvest intervention, we have reduced the entire supply chain wastage to 1.6 per cent of produce compared to 25-40 per cent when we started. In our product, the global standard is 15 per cent. Tracking and technological efforts have made the process much more efficient,” he said.
Why Indian bananas are in demand
Two of the biggest reasons behind the popularity of Indian bananas in the export market over other producers like the Philippines, Indonesia and China, are lower cost and a logistical edge.
Banana produce from these countries takes three weeks to reach the major West Asian banana market, while from India, the supply takes just one week.
However, the demand varies according to country. For example, Iran, which imports 2,500 containers of banana every month from across the world, takes just 40 from India, and even that is a big jump from 10 containers five months before. A container means 20 tonnes (20,000 kg), and is worth Rs 8 lakh.
India also has the advantage of year-round fruit availability; it can harvest three crops in two years.
However, traditionally, Indian banana produce suffered from export-quality issues, and wasn’t picked up despite the cheap prices. Now, after technological intervention, even the export-quality bananas sold in the domestic market give double the returns as the lower quality fruit did.