Every year, huge amount of fruits in the country become rotten due to lack of preservation facilities. The Naniarchar pineapple chips factory is trying to extend preservation of pineapples as well as add more value to these fruits
Twelve years ago, when Treena Chakma married Sumanta Chakma of Naniarchar upazila in Rangamati, her father-in-law Prohlad Chakma was among the few pineapple farmers in the locality.
Two years after her marriage, Treena had to take charge of the orchards as her service holder husband had little time for farming.
Now, the 30-year old mother of two sons looks after three orchards of the family.
Naniarchar is famous for a particular variety of pineapple – honey queen – which is small in size but tastes the sweetest and the most delicious.
As the fame of Naniarchar pineapple spread across the fruit markets, local farmers, mostly from ethnic minority groups, took its cultivation to a remarkable stage.
According to Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) data, 55,835 tonnes of pineapples were produced on 2,130 hectares of land across Naniarchar in 2019.
The farmers grow pineapple on their own initiatives, without the government support.
However, a bumper production means nothing to them if the price falls or the products become rotten due to lack of preservation facilities.
When it comes to cultivating perishable items like fruits, there are many risks.
"Pineapple cultivation got popularity in Naniarchar since 2014-15. But there is a problem that the more farmers grow the same crop, the more risk of price fall," she said, adding that two years ago in 2018, a bumper harvest of pineapple caused huge loss to the farmers.
Treena's loss was estimated at around Tk2.5 lakh.
The return from the sale was lower than the cultivation cost.
Last year, Alomoy Chakma, another pineapple farmer owning two orchards at Naniarchar, incurred a loss of Tk2 lakh as rain delayed transportation of the fruits to Sylhet.
The consignment perished completely.
Even if he had sold the pineapples to the local market, he could have earned at least Tk1.40 lakh.
"There is no cold storage in the remote hilly Naniarchar upazila. Lacking storage facility, the pineapple farmers have to sell the produces on a daily basis, without enough bargaining capacity," said Md Safiqul Islam, deputy director at Naniarchar Horticulture Centre under DAE.
As a remedy for the farmers, the centre started piloting a pineapple chips factory from the beginning of this year.
Officials of the centre believe that manufacturing the chips would extend preservation of pineapples to at least six months as well as add more value to them.
It would also ensure fair price for farmers.
If luck favours the farmers, they can sell a piece of pineapple at Tk15 to TK20. Otherwise, the price can fall to Tk2 or less.
In general, cultivation cost of one piece pineapple is Tk5 including labour wage.
On the other hand, a rotten pineapple has no value.
The summer fruit becomes rotten within seven days after ripening.
Piloting the pineapple chips factory has already ushered hope among Naniarchar farmers like Treena and Alomoy.
This year, Treena harvested 80,000 pieces of pineapples.
She supplied her produces to the chips factory.
The factory saved her from fruit wastage and loss.
"This is beneficial for us. I hope the factory would be expanded," Treena told The Business Standard.
"Continuity of the factory is a must," said Alomoy who has planted 62,000 pieces of pineapple for the next harvest season, eyeing good luck like Treena.
There are around 1,500 pineapple farmers at Naniarchar.
Among the farmers, only 200 can be brought under coverage of the factory that has a production capacity of 500 packets per day.
The pilot factory, under an 800 square feet shed, is still running on trial and error basis.
If the initiative gets desired success, the model would be applied to other fruit cultivation hubs in the country, the ultimate goal that the DAE officials hope for.
DAE launched its eight-year "Year Round Fruit Production for Nutrition Improvement" project in July 2015.
The project covers 74 horticulture centres across 56 districts.
The Naniarchar pineapple chips factory, first of its kind in the country, is a part of this project.
Md Nurul Islam, deputy project director, said that every year, huge amount of fruits become rotten (estimated at around 30 percent).
Around 72 varieties of fruits grow in Bangladesh.
In 2018-19 fiscal year, fruit production was 23.72 lakh tonnes.
Before launching the pilot project, the officials had visited China, Thailand and Vietnam to experience fruit preservation techniques.
"Exchange of technology is tough while the cost of importing the machinery is huge. Hence, we planned to develop such machines in our shed Naniarchar Horticulture Centre. Although, we are still experimenting with the process, we can say that value addition to fruit is possible in our country. We do not need to import fruit products," said Nurul.
Under the Naniarchar factory, selected pineapples get washed and sanitised. Then the skins are peeled off and the cores are removed.
In the next part, the fleshes are cut into small chips. The wet chips are either pulped or sorted out for drying.
In the dehydration machine, the chips are dried for 8-12 hours under 60-80 degree Celsius heat.
Finally, the dried chips are packed.
DAE has named the product "Ananas".
Soon, the product will be available in an outlet in Asad Gate, Dhaka.
Nurul said, "We can also manufacture jackfruit, banana and sweet potato chips in this way. We can also produce fruit juices and jelly."
He, however, said that there is a need of government patronisation.
Moreover, fruit product manufacturing would create employment and reduce market dependency on imported products.
"For a cottage-based chips factory, it would require investment of Tk25-30 lakh and Tk4-5 crore for big-scale production," Nurul said.
Bangladesh Agricultural University Professor Poly Karmoker, also the departmental head of food technology and rural industries, told that if fruit product manufacturing gets popularity, fruit wastage would reduce, farmers would bargain for their produces, and people's nutritional requirement would be fulfilled by local fruit products.
"Farmers can install cottage-based fruit product factories under co-operatives. Food engineering departments under many public and private universities have already developed the necessary equipment for small-scale industry. In collaboration with the universities, the government can promote it," Poly said.