Jackfruit exports: ripe with potential?
By Rajiesh Seetharam
Jackfruit exports may prove to be a ripe opportunity for Sri Lanka to seize upon, as veganism and the demand for meat-substitutes are globally on the rise. In the past few months, even many non-vegetarian consumers have switched to jackfruit, as the coronavirus has triggered a fear of meat in many parts of the world.
Ninety per cent of jackfruit exports from Sri Lanka comprise polos, or young jackfruit in canned form or glass jars, while the remaining 10 per cent comprises ripened, dried kos or waraka, stated Annes Junaid, Former Chairman of the Lanka Fruit and Vegetable Producers, Processors and Exporters Association (LFVPPEA) and Former Chairman of the National Agri Business Council.
Due to its fibrous texture, jackfruit is considered a vegetarian substitute for meat and chicken in the West. Sri Lanka's jackfruit exports have been increasing over the years due to changing food consumption habits in the West, where the trend is moving towards veganism and organic products.
"Four years ago, there were very few buyers, but now there are buyers from the US, UK, EU and Australia for jackfruit products from Sri Lanka. Export companies that purchased polos at Rs 20 per kilo four years ago, now purchase it at Rs 80 per kg, sometimes going up to Rs 120 per kg, thus contributing to the rural economy," noted Junaid.
Dawn Austin, MD of Nidro Supply (Pvt) Ltd, whose company has been involved in the fresh fruit and vegetable export business for the past 45 years, stated that significant opportunities exist for the export of processed tender jackfruit from Sri Lanka.
Jackfruit is now internationally being termed a 'super food', and being hailed as the miracle nutrition option for vegans. "Sri Lankan Processors and Exporters normally look for growers to be GAP-certified when identifying produce for export, whether the export is in fresh or processed form. Buyers are more discerning about the need to ensure traceability from farm to fork," says Austin.
However, the Export Development Board said that there is presently no commercial cultivation of jackfruit and that they are unable to provide any statistical data on jackfruit exports, as it is typically exported under other categories.
Another exporter who has been involved in the trade for a long time expressed his displeasure over the Government's recent import restrictions such as the need for buying on three months' credit. He says this hampers value-added exports, as certain raw materials and packaging materials are imported, and some sources of these materials are not willing to offer credit.
"The Government should invest in R&D, while local universities should include more courses on various methods of value-addition to the fruit," stated the Sales Manager of a leading food exporting company in Colombo, which exports processed canned jackfruit products.