Internationally recognized testing laboratory can boost exports
Rafiqul Akter: Improvement in areas like supply chain and packaging is needed to make local products more competitive in the international market, said experts. They have underscored the need for establishing an internationally recognised testing laboratory to boost exports.
The agro-food processing industry now contributes about 8.0 per cent to manufacturing output or 1.7 per cent of country’s GDP. Despite maintaining sustained growth in output over the last decade, its share of GDP remains quite static below 2.0 per cent.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), agro-processing involves the transformation of products originating from agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Agro-food processing involves primary and secondary processing. The former is associated with processing of agricultural products in their basic form and the latter requires conversion into final products like jams, biscuits etc. The primary inputs for the industry include crops, poultry and livestock, fishery and some forestry products.
This industry now employs about 2.2 per cent of total workforce in the country of which close to 70 per cent are unskilled labour. Its share of total exports now
stands at around 1.5 per cent.
The agro-food processing industry remains highly concentrated and dominated by a limited number of firms.
The main exports from this industry are composed of frozen fish, shrimp and other frozen food products, tea, spices, fruits including dry fruits and some other processed agricultural products.
The major export destinations include the European Union (EU), the US, the Middle East and the Gulf, but targeting ethnic food niches in those countries with strong presence of Bangladeshi and South Asian migrants and settled communities from those countries.
Agricultural food-processing entrepreneurs said they can raise their annual exports by more than 40 percent to $1 billion within 2021 through adoption of advanced technology. Shipment by the agricultural food-processing sector stood at around $700 million in the last fiscal year.
“The agro-food processing sector needs to adopt advanced technology to fulfill the plan of exporting products worth $1 billion a year,” said Ahsan Khan Chowdhury, chairman and chief executive of Pran-RFL Group, the largest agriculture food processor in Bangladesh.
He said the sector would play an important role in diversifying Bangladesh’s export basket as the country’s processed foods have demand in the international market, especially in India.
Bangladesh itself has a large market for processed foods. “There is a huge potential within the country,” said SM Jahangir Hossain, vice-president of the Bapa, said the country needs to diversify export items apart from apparels.
“The agro-processing sector can play a vital role here.” He said the sector is already growing well and technological advancement would assist it to move to the next level.