A container carrying 21 tonnes of the Grand Naine variety of banana from Tamil Nadu’s Theni district will leave Kochi port on November 1 on a sea voyage of 24 days to the Port of Trieste, Italy.

With this, Tamil Nadu on Wednesday formally commenced export of banana to Italy with the State’s Agriculture Minister R Doraikannu flagging off the first shipment through video conferencing from Chennai.

This attempt, claimed to be the first of its kind from India to Europe (via sea) would probably pave the way for more shipments from the State.

Agriculture Secretary Gangandeep Singh Bedi said that the government would take steps to help farmers export more Grand Naine banana and other native varieties as well.

AP Karuppiah, President, Tamil Nadu Banana Growers' Federation, said that Grand Naine was cultivated on around 18,000 hectares out of the total 90,000-odd hectares under banana in the State. To facilitate export, farmers in the Theni belt followed the scientific and logistic protocol developed by the National Research Centre for Banana (NRCB), Trichy. Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Karuppiah told Business Line that the farmers had been following improved post-harvest practices to enhance the quality of the fruit and by utilising the pack-house, pre-cooling and ripening chambers, exporting the banana to the Middle East. “But this is our first attempt at exporting to Europe” he added.

“To help in easy handling of the fruit post-harvest, the Farm Varsity here has designed a cable-way conveyor system. This cable-way conveyor has helped reduce post-harvest loss in handling the bunches from the farm to the pack-house. It is suitable for large farms as also for collective small holdings in transporting the bunches.”

The conveyor was erected in a farm at Gudalur, Theni district. About 400 kg of fruits harvested using this conveyor system was air-lifted to Italy in the trial phase. The fruit quality, “was good with longer shelf-life compared to conventional harvest”.

“A static inland simulation trial was conducted last month (September). The federation partnered with NRCB and shipping liner MAERSK. Fully loaded banana-packed pallets under controlled temperature was tested for three weeks to standardise the post harvest requirements. The results proved positive and we are today confident of exploring business opportunities for export of not just Grand Naine but other varieties such as Red banana, Ney Poovan and Nendran to Europe,” Karuppiah said.

Calling it a milestone, he said that this would not have been possible but for the financial support from Port of Trieste, Italy, NRCB’s technical guidance and TNAU's backing in designing the conveyor system.

“The system is not merely for transporting the fruit to pack-house but a multi-purpose one,” he added.