Untapped fruit potential


Untapped fruit export potential

PAKISTAN’S fruit export remains below potential for lack of international certification, grading, labeling and value-addition, substandard packaging, insufficient market access, and huge post-harvest losses mainly due to poor cool chain.

The situation is worsened for want of enough farm-to-market roads, outdated post-harvest techniques, shortage of skilled labour and absence of institutional credit.

An estimated 30-50 per cent of the total produce is lost during harvesting, transportation and preservation/storage stages.

“Chitral and northern areas of Gilgit Baltistan produce large quantities of fresh and dry fruits. The drains, alleys and fields bellow the fruit trees here are strewn with dropped fruits.

With only a little cure and preventive measure, this loss can be prevented and converted into a profitable plan,” said Saifullah Khan, a Chitral-based farmer.

The total annual loss to fruit is estimated at around Rs60 billion. An integrated ‘cool chain’ project worth over Rs13 billion has been envisioned under the National Trade Corridor improvement programme aiming at 10 per cent reduction in post-harvest losses.

The horticultural sector contributes about 12 per cent to the national agricultural gross domestic product but its exports are of relatively low volumes.

The province’s Horticulture Policy 2009 identifies limited grading, non-practicing of certifications such as Eurogap, ISO 1400 and HACCP, lack of cold storage and identification of new markets etc as factors responsible for low fruit exports.

With the world becoming sensitive to food quality issues, Pakistan’s fresh fruit export industry will have to ensure compliance with the international standards and certifications mainly focused on food safety, traceability, residues of different agrochemicals, lack of good agricultural practices, reduction of post-harvest diseases and pests and safety of food
packaging materials.

The fruit production here is mostly organic, and therefore acceptable to the world.

The government needs to open common facility centres, collection points, processing plants, product testing laboratories and guidance and counselling centres in fruit production zones.

The PHDEC and TDAP should also establish training institutes for raising nt in production and quality with financial help from the Export Development Fund.

Coordination among the TDAP, PHDEC and the chambers of agriculture and chambers of trade and industry is vital for boosting exports. The TDAP’s facilitation division should ensure close interaction between the stakeholders.

Though there are nurseries both in the public and private sector in KP which produce fruit plants that are provided to farmers, the government and non-governmental organisations need to provide expert advice, fruit saplings/seeds, to farmers to grow more trees.

The province also needs to expand the germ plasma units and register more private sector nurseries for tissue culture technology to have more fruit orchards in the province.

The existing storage capacity in private sector meets requirement for only seven per cent of the total production. It needs to be enhanced. Fruit expor

Focus on re beans

Focus on red beans

MALAKAND division in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is not only known for its fruits and vegetables but it has another speciality — the red beans.

The area produces quality red beans, called Lobia locally, which is known for its nutritious value for being a rich source of protein. It is generally cultivated during June and harvested in October/November.

According to Saeedur Rehman, a Dir-based farmer, lobia is widely cultivated in Dir, Chitral, Kohistan and Shangla. “Lobia produced in Thal Kohistan, Barawal Dir and Bamboret valley in Chitral is especially liked for its softness, taste and quality. The cooler the area, the better is the crop production.

Hundreds of tons of red beans produced in the area has a market in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh and is even exported.

“The government must support the crop and facilitate its production and exports. The growers should be provided technical and financial help boost its production.

Being a high altitude area, Dir’s fields are mostly rain-fed and lobia is also dependent upon rainwater. A prolonged drought negatively impacts the crop. Lobia is grown during aspan of few months during the year.

The crop was usually intercropped with maize till recently. But most farmers now avoid doing so and grow it separately or on the sides of maize fields. From their experience they have learnt that when grown together with maize, per acre yield comes down for both maize and lobia as the height and congestion deprive each other of sunlight which retards their growth and affect their quality and yield.

Syed Muahmmad Nasir, a Denori (Dir)-based farmer, says that intercropping harms both the crops. “If grown separately, per acre maize yield is 40-50 maunds and that of lobia 16-22 maunds. Now lobia is economically more beneficial to farmers as it, as per the current market rates, fetches Rs96,000-1,32,000 for the above produce while maize can get only
Rs50,000-60,000 against it.

But the problem is that farmers in cooler areas also need maize crop as a staple food. Hence both crops are grown simultaneously. But as intercropping has been reducing the per acre yield of lobia to six maunds and of maize to 20 maunds, farmers now usually grow lobia on the sides of maize fields. This way they not only get lobia yield of 6-8 maunds per acre but also get a bumper maize crop from their fields,” he says.

“The cereal crops research institutes and the non-governmental organisations can address the problem by developing drought-resistant lobia seeds and providing it to farmers free of costs initially along with guidance,” says Islam Ghani, a man who uses the local lobia profusely.

The high demand for the crop countrywide has increased its price. It is being sold at Rs6,000-6,500 per 50 kg locally against Rs3,000-3,500 for the Chinese and other brands produced in other areas in Pakistan.

In KP, the crop is part of Kharif pulses. An official of the agriculture ministry in KP says there is no separate record available for lobia’s acreage and production. But he adds the total area of Kharif pulses is around 800 hectares which produces around 400 tons of different pulses including lobia.

Another official document available with this writer, however, projects the total acreage and production of Kharif pulses in thousands of hectares and tons.

The official says that lobia is grown only in cooler parts of Dir, Chitral and Shangla and is usually intercropped with maize.

“The crop is of course of superior quality and taste vis-à-vis its Chinese or Indian counterparts. But the problem is that it is mainly produced on non-commercial basis and only for household use in these areas. It doesn’t even suffice the local use, what to talk of marketing and exporting it,” he says.

“The government needs to support the crop with incentives,” he adds

Grappling with devolved responsibilities


Decline in sugarcane market price

Decline in sugarcane market price

By Tahir Ali

THE ban on supply of gur to Afghanistan despite bumper sugarcane crop and the prolonged cold/dry weather have improved cane supply situation for sugar mills. However, farmers in Khyber PakhtunKhwa remain adversely affected.

Along with fall in price of sugar, per satta (two purs or 150-180kg) price of gur has come down to about Rs8,000-9,000 this season from Rs16,000-17,000 last year. It is for the first time in recent years that gur has lost its competitiveness.

Masud Khan, an official of the Premier Sugar Mills, Mardan, said that an overwhelming majority of farmers were bringing their produce to the mills. “For the first time during this season cane supply has reached 100 per cent delivery. We are receiving around 3,600 tonnes of the commodity daily,” he said adding “against the official support price of Rs150 per 40kg, the growers were being paid Rs158/40kg or around Rs200 per 50kg.”

“Huge cane production, low gur prices and damages caused to the crop by frost with fear of further loss to sucrose contents due to weather conditions, and the need to vacate lands for subsequent crops, are compelling farmers to bring their crops to the mills,” Khan added.

According to Haji Naimat Shah Roghani, senior vice-president Anjuman-i-Kashtkaran KP, farmers widely cultivated cane this year following attractive prices of Rs338/50kg offered by mills, and around Rs16,000/satta price of gur in the market last year. Cane was sold even up to Rs500/50kg to private vendors engaged in juice extracting business.

“Banning movement of gur to the tribal belt and its export to Afghanistan, which led to sharp fall in its prices, the faulty decision of the government to import sugar at the start of crushing season instead of lifting stocks from mills in time, led to fall in cane price severely affecting growers. This, no doubt, helped reduce sugar prices in the market but at a critical juncture making timely payments to farmers impossible, at least for now,” he said.

“The millers are offering a price of Rs200 for 50kg these days. At the present rate of returns and for gur in the market, 300 maunds average per acre yield (15 purs or eight satta) could earn a farmer only Rs60,000 and nearly the same amount if he takes his produce to mills.

The present rate of gur and the rate offered by mills are too little for farmers as the per acre cost of production has increased to almost over Rs60,000 due to steep rise in prices of farm inputs, services and increased land-rent in recent times, especially in the last couple of years,” said Mr Roghani.

“With such a return that only equals the cost of production, farmers would hardly be inclined to grow sugarcane in the coming Kharif season. Does the government understand the risks involved?” he asked.

Farmers in the cane-rich DIK have multiple complaints. Muhammad Ismael, a farmer from Luanda Sharif in DIK, said farmers were being denied indents, a prerequisite for cane-supply to mills. “Indents are issued only to big farmers who have access to right quarters. The farmers with poor resources are running from pillar to post. As gur production was mostly avoided by area farmers, selling cane to mills was the only option,” he said.

”But with indents not issued or delayed for lengthy process as these are being provided through agents against the past practice when it was directly given to farmers, we have to sell our cane to the commission ‘mafia’ at a lower prices but prompt payment. The commission agents buy the crop between Rs135-140 per 40kg against Rs150 offered by Chashma Sugar mills in the area,” he added.

“Payments legally due in 15 days are delayed for months. A farmer who supplied cane to a mill last year received his payments this year. The farmers are also subjected to a cut of around 10-15 per cent on the pretext of poor quality and low sucrose content,” added Mr Ismael.

With gur prices historically low, the commission agents should also have reduced their commission at gur markets. “But they continue to impose a commission of Rs130/pur in Mardan and Swabi while their counterparts in Peshawar and Charsadda were collecting only Rs40/pur. The government must ensure a uniform rate of commission for gur agents in the province,” Mr Roghani added.

“The government is also needed to support farmers through targeted subsidies on inputs. It should remove or reduce general sales tax on agriculture services and inputs. It should allow export of gur and lift the ban on its movement to the provincially- and federally-administered tribal areas,” he stressed.

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