The government is planning to set up two vapour heat treatment (VHT) plants to safely process 35,000 tonnes of fresh mango and vegetables per annum – a move aimed at increasing export agricultural products and finding an entry into countries, including Russia and Japan, that currently do not allow their imports from Bangladesh.
According to the initial plan of the planning ministry, the Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) and the Barind Multipurpose Development Authority (BMDA) will set up the plants in Savar and Rajshahi, respectively, at a total cost of Tk50 crore. BADC would also set up an Auto Conveyor machine in Savar for making a packaging line.
According to BADC officials, Bangladesh currently exports mango to some countries in Europe and the Middle East on a small scale.
However, a demand for Bangladeshi mangoes was created in different countries during last mango season, they said, adding the international chain shop Walmart has shown interest in several varieties of Bangladeshi mango. Russia has also expressed interest in importing mangoes from Bangladesh.
Mentioning that Bangladesh cannot export mango and many other fruits and vegetables to a number of countries as the mandatory standard processing method for exporting such products to those countries is not practiced here, they said the proposed VHT plants would help to overcome the limitations.
Experts say various insects lay eggs on the skin of mango which infect the fruits when they are ripe. As a result, it is not possible to store the mangoes for a long time after maturity. A VHT plant removes the eggs and thus prevents rapid decay of mango. The same happens in case of fungus and bacteria.
VHT is a system for steadily killing eggs and larvae of fruit flies parasitising inside the fruit with vapor and heat without injuring fresh fruits.
In this system, fruits are exposed to heat at specified temperature – 40°C to 50°C – and humidity – 40% RH and above – levels, increasing its internal temperature. As a result, parasites are killed while heat injury to the fruit is avoided.
Officials concerned told The Business Standard that the two proposed VHT plants – to be built at an estimated cost of Tk50 crore – will have a cumulative capacity to process 10,000 tonnes of mangoes and 25,000 tonnes of vegetables per year by removing fungus, bacteria and insects in a chemical-free way.
They would also increase the brightness of the agro-products and separate exportable ones by grading and sorting, they added.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Bangladesh exported 1,700 tonnes of untreated mango this season. The country also exported vegetables worth $119 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The authorities have set an annual target to export 1,400 tonnes of mangoes, treated at the VHT plants. For this, various training would be provided to the farmers and traders to increase their capacities and to set up entrepreneur groups.
The Planning Commission, at a recent meeting of the Project Evaluation Committee (PEC), however, recommended that one plant be built by one of the proposed implementing agencies at a time instead of building two plants by the two organisations concurrently. The commission also suggested lowering the project completion tenure to two years from three years.
At the meeting, the Planning Commission also said product processing, packaging, etc are mainly the activities of the private sector. As the private sector of the country has the capacity for these infrastructures, it is necessary to highlight the rationale for government investment in this regard.
In addition to increasing exports, promotional campaigning in the domestic market should also be considered, the commission added.
According to the BADC, the Ministry of Agriculture will select an organisation as per the recommendation of the Project Evaluation Committee. The revised plan would be then presented to the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) meeting for approval.
Md Ferdous Rahman, head of the planning department of BADC, told The Business Standard, "The Ministry of Agriculture is working on some minor changes regarding the project. The revised plan would be sent to the Planning Commission as soon as possible."