EastFruit experts have repeatedly drawn attention to Uzbekistan’s rapid increase fresh watermelon exports in 2022 and 2023. In 2022, the country exported 81.8 thousand tons of watermelons, which became a historical record, beating the previous one by 67%. In 2023 Uzbekistan has already exceeded this record, exporting almost 96 thousand tons of watermelons in in May-August 2023. Thus, it is possible that by the end of September 2023 the country will exceed a historical 100,000 tons threshold for the first time, making it to top 10 largest global exporters of watermelons.
We know that prices of Uzbek watermelons are very attractive but are there any other factors, which made such a rapid increase in exports possible?
Geography of Uzbek watermelon exports
In 2022 fresh watermelons from Uzbekistan were exported to the markets of only 9 countries, with 99.6% of the total export volume going to 6 countries only – Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Latvia. Since in 2019-2021 Uzbek watermelons were also supplied to the markets of 8-9 countries, it is obvious that Uzbekistan did not open any new markets.
Despite the fact that in May-August 2023 the number of importers of Uzbek watermelon increased to 13 countries, 99.5% of the total export volume falls on the same 6 countries that were the main buyers of watermelon from Uzbekistan a year ago. Thus, the increase in exports of fresh watermelons from Uzbekistan were mostly due to higher demand in the traditional foreign markets rather than thanks to the market expansion.
In recent years the start of mass watermelon exports from Uzbekistan was shifting to earlier dates. If before 2021, mass exports of watermelons from Uzbekistan started no earlier than the second ten days of June, in 2021 it started in the last days of May, that is, about two weeks earlier than in previous years.
In 2022, large-scale exports of watermelons from Uzbekistan began in the third ten days of May, about a week earlier than in 2021. Already at the beginning of June 2022, an average of about one thousand tons of watermelons were shipped for exports per day.
The early start of mass shipments made it possible to sharply increase export volumes and in June 2022, Uzbekistan exported over 60 thousand tons of fresh watermelon, which provided a historical record for the same year.
In 2023 exports of watermelons started even earlier than in 2022 – from mid-May. In the second half of May 2023 Uzbekistan exported record volumes for this time of year – over 30 thousand tons. And in the first half of June 2023 exports reached almost 41 thousand tons! As a result, in the first month from the start of mass exports, 71.3 thousand tons of watermelon were supplied to foreign markets – about 75% of all exports for May-August 2023.
In other words, the main factors that allowed Uzbek producers and exporters to achieve record results for the second year in a row were the shift in the start of mass exports to an earlier date and the increase in shipment volumes in the first month after the start of mass export shipments.
Accordingly, in order to enter foreign markets earlier and increase shipment volumes, there must be available volumes of these products in the domestic market.
Obviously, price for early watermelons are always much higher and it attracts investors but how can you start harvesting watermelons in Uzbekistan so early?
Watermelon production in Uzbekistan going under the roof
In recent years, farmers in one of the southernmost regions of Uzbekistan, the Kashkadarya region, which is the country’s key region for watermelon production, are relying on early varieties of watermelon and trying to ensure accessible volumes for exports in order to enter foreign markets as early as possible.
For several years now, in the Kukdala district of the Kashkadarya region, from where the first batches of the new crop of watermelon are supplied to the domestic market and foreign markets, the technology of growing early varieties of watermelon in bi-tunnel unheated greenhouses has become increasingly popular. Watermelon seeds are sown in “cups” in December of previous year and after about 2-2.5 months the finished seedlings are planted into the ground.
“This year, in early February, we began planting seedlings of the early ripening watermelon Dolby F1. Early varieties are mainly grown here. It is very important to enter the market with a new harvest of watermelon at least one day earlier. There is competition in the global market in all areas and industries. If we do not grow early varieties, then we enter foreign markets at the same time as Kazakhstan, and this greatly limits our export opportunities. Therefore, we are seriously working to bring the new crop of watermelon to the market as early as possible. Year after year, we manage to bring the new watermelon crop to market about 10 days earlier than the previous year. If we talk about the results of the current season, on April 17 we began shipping the first batches of watermelons. The production volumes of watermelon of such early varieties are increasing every year,” says farmer and chairman of the Association of Watermelon and Melon Producers of the Kukdala District Ulugbek Jumanazarov in an interview with the Uzbekistan 24 TV channel.
This year, in the Kukdala district of the Kashkadarya region of Uzbekistan alone, the total area of watermelon fields amounted to 20 thousand hectares, of which 10 thousand hectares were areas for early varieties, 6.5 thousand hectares for mid-season varieties and 3.5 thousand hectares – late varieties of watermelon, as noted in the TV channel’s report.
According to EastFruit analysts, if the trend continues – a shift in the time of entry of a new crop into the market to an earlier date and an increase in the available volumes of early watermelons, we should expect a further increase in the volume of exports of Uzbek watermelons and, possibly, an update of record figures in subsequent years. Moreover, this will also lead to an increase in export revenue, because early watermelons are sold at a higher price than mid-season varieties. However, it must be borne in mind that the so-called “bottleneck” in the further increase in the export of Uzbek watermelons will remain the small number of main markets for these products and dependence on the situation in these markets. Therefore, market diversification is an important factor to further boost watermelon exports.
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