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Despite Nipah jitters, Saudi Arabia resumes importing Kerala fruits, veggies

M Sarita Varma
Nipah virus, Nipah ban on vegetables, Kerala, Saudi Arabia, Harsh Vardhan, Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, APPEXA

The much-awaited lifting of Saudi Arabia s post-Nipah ban on vegetables and fruits from the airports in Kerala has come as a relief even as the state is battling with a second outbreak of Nipah virus (NiV). Saudi Arabia s move has revived vegetable and fruit exports worth $4,00,000 per day from Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. It was in mid-May that exporters got a communication from Saudi Arabian government that the NiV ban clamped last year had been lifted, according to P E Ashraf Ali of Pomona Exports in Kozhikode. Till October, Gulf countries are likely to have a warm season appetite for buying fruits, he said.

Traditionally, fruits and vegetables worth Rs 1.8 crore are flown every day from three Kerala airports to Gulf. Saudi Arabia used to account for one-third of this business. Plantains and pineapples constitute the bulk of Kerala s 130 tonne Gulf fruit export basket.

UAE, which buys $350 million worth fruits and vegetables per year from Kerala, is the biggest exporter, Dil Koshy, secretary, APPEXA (Agricultural Products and Processed Food Exporters) told FE. Last year, UAE too had banned fruit imports from Kerala. Just as other Gulf buyers had been quick to lift the embargo when NiV was cleared, Saudi Arabia had taken nearly a year to reinstate the export channel, says Koshy.

Meanwhile, Union minister for health Dr Harsh Vardhan has tweeted that there is no reason to panic over the return of NiV in Kerala. All six patients (suspected of NiV) have tested negative, he tweeted. The Kerala government s health machinery has been more prepared, with worldwide expertise at hand, this time. Moreover, the outbreak seems much smaller in scale than during last year.