Fruit jam makers face challenges to grow exports

Jam is big business in the domestic market, but exporters are having trouble selling the fruit-based delicacy abroad.

Though the product is popular in Bangladesh and India, the attitude of other potential customers can best be described as sticky.

The industry has no trouble shipping jam out, though there are difficulties with importers, according to exporter Ko Kyaw Hlaing said.

“But some countries won’t accept it, even though our products are organic. We can export to Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but their quality demands are high and they require certificates from the Myanmar Medical Association and the Food and Drugs Administration,” he said.

While quality is a concern, there are several other hurdles to clear for jam exporters.

Banking transfers also present a difficulty. For lack of direct access to the international banking system, exporters generally use Singapore bank.

“We would have no problem if there was a direct banking system. We have to pay Singapore a lot in charges. KBZ can operate internationally, but not in every country,” said Ko Kyaw Hlaing. He added that transactions that pass through American banks can still be slow.

“It can take six months working through a lawyer to get my money,” he said.

Financing would run smoother for jam businesspeople if they had more options. Yet moving around the money is far from the only problem facing jam exporters.

U Oo Cho, the owner of Swe Myo Mae fruit jams, said often the products are sold to foreign commodities brokers, who then re-label the products before shipping it further.

“We can sell to foreign commodities brokers, but then our product turns up in America labelled as Thai jam.”

Steep rises in input prices have also damaged exporters’ options.

“Jam can be made from any fruit, but not every jam sells. We can’t make a profit on strawberry jam, for instance, because it’s so expensive,” said U Oo Cho.

This is the season for marian, a type of plum also known as maprang, but prices have tripled. Last year it went for K500 a viss (one viss equals 1.6 kg or 3.6 lbs), but it now costs K1500, he said.
U Oo Cho added that many business people preferred to search for new products than to use expensive seasonal fruit.
“Businessmen are creative and they are always experimenting with new products instead of basing products on the seasons in which fruit is expensive,” he said.

Traditionally handmade, jam is now increasingly made with machinery, mostly imported from China. The machines are expensive and require a stable electricity supply. “We can get help with loans for new technology, but we would have to give a private bank a quarter of our earnings as collateral,” he said.

Most Yangon jam companies buy fruit at Thiri Mingalar Market, which sells fruit from all over the country, rather than contracting directly with fruit farmers.

Because of the nature of the business, predicting supply from year to year is also a constant problem.
“Fruit trees are a long-term investment. They last a long time, and people can’t wait,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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