Meghalaya can reap rich dividends from export of pineapple

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Meghalaya can reap rich dividends from export of pineapple

Tuesday, 19 September 2023 | SK Malhotra

Pineapple can be a great money spinner for the state but its processing industry is in its infancy due to expensive canning and the high cost of inputs

A conjoint analysis of local consumers’ preferences for pineapple, funded by the Indonesian government in Labuhan Batu district, North Sumatra, in 2021, revealed that consumers like the yellowish-green fruit, which has a sweet taste, great size, pungent flavour, soft and smooth texture. Though consumer preferences for the fruit that sports a crown have yet to be studied in India, the Meghalaya variety ticks all the boxes, standing tall among numerous varieties available worldwide.

Mother Nature has a special place for Meghalaya. Apart from the natural beauty and the lush rolling hills, the northeastern state offers perfect climatic conditions for cultivating the perennial herbaceous plant. The fruit grows well in areas such as Ri Bhoi, East Khasi, Garo Hills, in Meghalaya, as long as the temperatures are not extreme. The optimum temperature required for successful cultivation is 22-32 degrees C. Sandy loam soils with a pH of 5.0-6.0, precisely the kind of soil pineapple cultivation requires, have plenty in Meghalaya. These help the Meghalaya pineapple to become more delicious and nutrient-rich than its peers and find a special place in the hearts of both within and outside the state. These have won the hearts and tastes in the international markets as well.

Nutritionally, Meghalaya pineapple is a powerhouse. They are rich sources of vitamins A and C, potassium and essential nutritional fibre, making them an obvious choice for aficionados seeking both flavour and nutrients simultaneously in their diet. The fruit contains vitamins A, B, and C and calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. It is also high in bromelin, a digesting enzyme. The fruit can be eaten fresh or in juice, jam, squash, or syrup. In India, canned slices and liquid are in high demand, accounting for over 70% of total production.

Meghalaya contributes over 8% of India’s pineapple production, making it a key player in India’s agriculture map. From 1,38,701 MT production in 2019-20, pineapple production in Meghalaya has grown significantly over the last few years. Apart from the unique flavour of Meghalayan pineapple, the deep flesh of this pineapple consists of a profusion of juiciness, adding to the overall sensory appeal. 

Of the two principal varieties -- Giant Kew and Queen Pineapple, the former is famous for its high BRIX value. Ri-Bhoi district ranks first in pineapple manufacturing in Meghalaya, accounting for 38% of the state's total pineapple production, followed by West Garo Hills district with 62% of the produce.

The Meghalaya pineapples are produced using age-old organic agricultural practices, free from artificial fertilisers and insecticides. As a result, these pineapples contain significantly less metallic and pesticide residue. Natural and conventional cultivation practices make sure that there aren't any harmful chemical residues in the fruit. Thanks to natural, organic and traditional farming practices, those pineapples are remarkably resistant to pests and sicknesses. However, the remote nature of the terrain adds to the aggregation of costs in the case of Meghalaya pineapples. Thus, a unique challenge remains to reach trade hubs, and markets like Delhi and Mumbai via road /rail for a perishable fruit like pineapple. The pineapple processing industry is still in its infancy due to expensive canning and the high cost of fruit, sugar, containers, and overheads. Fresh pineapple marketing is very challenging.

Beyond its emphasised focus on Pineapple, the Government of Meghalaya has taken up several initiatives to its aspiration to improve farming livelihoods and double their income. So far, through various mission mode interventions for various products like Lakadong Turmeric, Honey, Aroma, Ginger, Spice, Pepper, Khasi Mandarin, Piggery and others. Along with these, to improve the value chain support, the Government has established about 200 CMC as one-stop shops for assisting farmers and primary farmgate infrastructure being set up to be the nodes for aggregation, processing and marketing of produce in the villages and clusters under the project. Through PRIME Agri Response Vehicle more than 110 farmer groups have been supported with a 50% subsidy and 20 Farmer Markets have been established, to improve the market linkages and provide farmers with wholistic support.

However, despite the odds, tremendous progress has been achieved through persistent efforts by the Government of Meghalaya in the last few years. Issues related to post-harvest management losses have been addressed by installing Cold storage in pineapple clusters. New marketing channels were created to aid farmers in improving visibility and logistics beyond state borders. The government of Meghalaya is exploring options to indulge export-oriented social enterprises in setting up frozen fruit processing units within the active Pineapple clusters, which could be a way to overcome the bottlenecks plaguing the investment milieu of the state.

(The writer is former Agriculture and Horticulture Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Govt of India. Views expressed are personal)

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