As part of its partnership with the German government, fresh fruit supplier Don Limón works with Indian growers in Sangli, Maharashtra, a key district in the country’s grape belt. Under a programme called develoPPP, the company is supporting smallholder producers with technical know-how and capacity building to secure access to different international markets. PBUK catches up Chiranjeevi A Rajanna who is wrapping up this season’s table grape export campaign.
2017 has been a mixed bag for Indian grapes with unfavourable climatic conditions earlier in the growing season followed by extra pressures caused by an abundant supply of Chilean and South African grapes midway through the export campaign.
However, overall Don Limón overcame the challenges and made headway in European markets, particularly the UK where punnet packaging increased sales.
“The season of Indian grapes for us starts in February and usually lasts until end of May. The Indian season was good overall this year,” Rajanna says.
“Due to unfavourable climatic conditions in India, the preferable brix (sugar) levels were difficult to achieve. But farmers came up with alternative techniques and successfully loaded quality grapes to Europe. Last year we did 32 containers, whereas this year we did 54 containers in total.
“We expanded our market to different European countries. Indian grapes struggled in the mid-season due to availability of large volume of RSA and Chile grapes in the market. But the market for Indian grapes picked up after a few weeks.”
This season the Don Limón brand gained ground in the UK, an important market which has seen steady growth over the last few years and is the focal point for future expansion.
“This year the UK, Spain, Switzerland and Denmark were the key markets for us.
“We introduced mixed varieties of grapes (white and black varieties) in punnets, which attracted our European customers, especially in the UK. It has been a great season with respect to the UK market and we are planning to increase the volume of mix varieties only for the UK.
“Don Limón also made its brand appearance in several supermarket fairs and also in private trade fairs. A partnership with the German government for the development of the Indian farmers’ living conditions put us in a different place in the market.
“We will be present in the London Produce Show this year with our products to reach out to more customers.”
Don Limón supplied varieties including Thompson Seedless, Manik chaman, Sharad Seedless and Flame Seedless. The company is in talks with breeding institutions in India and elsewhere to develop new varieties suitable for Indian conditions.
Passing on grape know-how
Optimising production and expanding markets has come a long way since the German-Indian partnership started in 2015.
In terms of pre-harvesting, farmers take part in workshops and classes about pest control, reaching international standards and hitting the requirements of retailers.
Harvesting and packing improvements have been taking place in India with facilities built by local contractors and financed through Don Limón which also facilitates the link between farmers and global supermarkets.
“We have a quality team working with farmers to train and educate them about the new agriculture practises and technologies. They visit individual farms every week and solve production related issues if there are any,” adds Rajanna.
“We also conduct training programmes three to four times a year where agricultural experts and successful farmers share their experiences and knowledge with the other farmers. International agricultural scholars also conduct video conferences with the farmers with the help of our quality team in India to educate farmers about the international developments in grapes.
“Soil sampling and analysis are being conducted to better understand the soil nature which helps in production of better quality of grapes. We are in the development stage in creating a partnership with water management institutions in India to provide sustainable water management techniques to the farmers.”