The frozen vegetable export is yet to live up to its potential in absence of proper initiative and financial support, observed a horticulture expert.
There is no donor-funded project at present for developing the sector except only a little assistance from the government, said Abdul Jalil Bhuiyan, Principal Scientific Officer of the Horticulture Research Centre of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI).
He also said the tenure of a World Bank-funded project for horticulture expired in 2002 and the project has not so far been renewed.
"Horticulture, particularly cultivation of high-valued and non-traditional crops, has an immense export prospect but such goods are highly perishable and must be exported by air shortly after harvest to retain their freshness in the destination markets", he mentioned.
Jalil, however, said unavailability of air cargo space while production is increasing is the main constraint of raising the export and only frozen vegetables can be the answer to it.
Frozen vegetables can be preserved for at least one year and can easily be transported both by waterways and by air, he further said.
Short term consultants hired by Hortex Foundation said the prevailing facilities for the fish processing plants could easily be adapted to processing the frozen vegetables, he added.
He further said super markets and chain shops like Agora, Meena Bazar, Nandan can also come forward in this connection.
He stressed the need for adopting advanced technology and providing financial support so that the country could emerge as a leading player in export of horticultural products.
The only frozen vegetable processing factory, in Ashulia, is being operated by Eurasia Food Processing (BD) Limited (EFPL), under the Hortex support scheme.
The EFPL is involved in export, transportation and technical advice in processing such food products. It exports under the banner of Crown Farms in the United Kingdom and the USA.
The company had been able to generate employment for 83,155 people in 2003-04 while 88,100 in 2004-05, out of which 90 per cent were women.
The leading vegetable exporters in Bangladesh identified lack of frozen vegetable processing industry, professional entrepreneurial ability, technical know-how, skilled manpower, market accessibility along with research and extension facilities as the main constraints of export of vegetables.
The booming vegetable export recorded 84 per cent growth in 2004-05 compared to $25 million in 2003-04.
The Hortex Foundation has been working on development of frozen vegetable export since 2000 to diversify the horticulture export base.
Hortex-supported export of frozen vegetables hit 275.20 tonnes in 2003-2004 and increased by 369.58 tonnes in 2004-2005.
Frozen vegetable exporters have noticed the highest demand of Stolon of Taro, locally known as Kachur Lati, and have exported 138 tonnes of such stolon, 38.40 tonnes of Stem Amaranth and Jackfruit seed and 33.50 tonnes of hyacinth bean from 2003 to 05.
The Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Hortex Foundation, Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA), Bangladesh Fruits, Vegetables and Allied Products Exporters' Association (BFVAPEA) and other concerned institutions are working for promoting this sector, sources said.
The vegetable growers of Jessore, Narsingdi, Savar, Narayanganj and Munshiganj, the main hubs of vegetable production, could have benefited more if the exports could be expanded, a trader said.