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Gourd delivers Olympic gold

- Six-fold jump in London-bound cargo

India’s gold harvest at London 2012 may have drawn a blank so far but traders 8,000km away are reaping rich returns from crop produced in our backyard.

Export of vegetables and fruits from Calcutta has pole-vaulted at least six times because of the Olympics.

Emirates, which takes vegetables to London from Calcutta through the year, says the jump has been phenomenal, “from around five tonnes a week to 30 tonnes”.

So heavy has been the rush of gourds, papayas, pumpkins, brinjals, beans and their cousins (see chart) that there has been no space for other commodities in passenger aircraft. “Usually, all the cargo from Calcutta fit into our regular passenger aircraft. But because of the sudden spike in the volume of perishables, which have to be shipped immediately, we had to arrange for a cargo flight from Calcutta last week,” said Amin Khan, Emirates’ regional cargo manager.

Emirates’ 100-tonne cargo flight took off with around 40 tonnes of non-perishable goods for London, which included leather accessories, garments and machinery. “All these were earlier sent on our 15 passenger flights from Calcutta every week,” said Khan.

The demand for “Bangla vegetables” has gone up because of the Games, importers in London have told Bimal Ghosh. Export agent Ghosh, who used to send three tonnes of vegetables every week in July 2011 has sent around 15 tonnes a week in July 2012.

The perishables are heading to malls, retail stores and restaurants in London besides, obviously, the Games village, which has many athletes and officials from the subcontinent.

One vegetable exporter said he had earned almost Rs 70 lakh from exports to London in July. The same amount of supplies would have fetched him less than Rs 7 lakh in Calcutta. Mrinal Sinha is sending vegetables to the UK for around four years but he has never witnessed such a jump in demand. In July 2011, Sinha had sent 34 consignments to the UK, each weighing up to one-and-a-half tonnes. “But this July, I sent 50 consignments, each weighing at least three tonnes,” he said.

The vegetables and fruits are being procured from the two 24-Parganas and Hooghly. Farmers bring their produce to warehouses where the exporters sort them for “quality control”. The fresh ones are packed into boxes, put on pick-up trucks and rushed to the airport’s cargo terminal.

The snake gourds, pumpkins, long gourds, ribbed gourds and long beans come mostly from a pocket of Bengal that could well have been supplying motor cars by now: Singur. The green chillies are from Diamond Harbour and the guavas from Baruipur.

The demand for leather goods from Calcutta has also gone up because of London 2012. Other years, they are usually sent by sea. “But several consignments of leather goods were flown out this year as the importers in London wanted them immediately,” said Badal Dey of Hellmann Worldwide Logistics. By sea, it takes 30 to 35 days for a consignment to reach London from Calcutta.

Dey said 70 tonnes of leather goods, worth around Rs 1 crore, were sent by air to London. These include ladies’ handbags, wallets, card holders and other accessories.

Jute bags, too, have found favour. “We have sent 1.5 lakh souvenir bags. Another 1.25 lakh will be ferried soon,” said Roma Chakraborty, whose Calcutta firm specialises in jute accessories. “Our workers are slogging day and night to meet the deadline for a wide range from laptop bags to gift bags,” she said.

And you thought we were hardly in the game(s)!