It was what Babur dreamt of—melons. Sweet as honey, thick and juicy, nothing compared with the melons of his home, he writes longingly in the Baburnama. These famed melons from Uzbekistan will soon be available in India, courtesy a little diplomacy by fruit. And a set of wings.
India is seriously exploring a dedicated air corridor to Central Asia to exploit the potential of the perishable. “The need is sorely felt [of an air corridor],’’ said Manish Prabhat, Joint Secretary Eurasia Division, Ministry of External Affairs. He made the remarks at the webinar ‘The Way Forward for Developing India-Central Asia Air Corridor.’
The ministry of agriculture has allowed Uzbekistan to export its famed lemons and melons. In return, India will send the king of fruit, the mango, and bananas.
This is not the first time that India has used the power of fruit to bring ties closer. The Afghan-India relationship was built on the strength of the dry fruits and now apricots that Afghanistan produces. The air corridor between India and Afghanistan is part of the confidence-building measures between both countries and has been a success. This summer, Afghan apricots and cherries found their way into Indian markets and homes.
The idea of an air corridor for Central Asia was floated by the minister of external affairs S. Jaishankar earlier this year at FICCI at the India Central Asia Business Council. However, it is only in COVID-19 times when other connectivity options have been restricted that the potential of the air corridor has really hit home. India has used this period to boost its agricultural exports which have gone up by 23 per cent.
One of the possibilities is to use one airport—a convenient way for other countries to collaborate with India and have a single point to send produce to. The other possibility could be to develop a trilateral route with Europe.
Better connectivity with Central Asia has been one of the MEA’s missions. The Chabahar Port, which India has been pushing, is part of this vision. While Chabahar has the ability to be a gamechanger for the economy of the region, air opens up doors to the potential of a different kind. “Kazakhstan requires fruit and vegetables. Winter is very harsh,” said Prabhat Kumar, Indian ambassador to Kazakhstan, talking about India’s export potential. At the moment, vegetables like cauliflower and tomatoes are imported during the winters from Europe or China. In return, India can get Kazakh honey.
The figures from the ministry of commerce put trade between the two countries for 2019-20 at $2.1 billion. However, there is a potential to do much more. The Asthana airline—the national carrier for Kazakhstan—has seen a growth of 35 per cent annually in terms of passenger and cargo traffic in the past few years.