Balochistan offers the investors lucrative opportunities to invest in fruit farms. The distinctive climatic conditions in the province provide diversity and a great variety for fruit production. Nature has bestowed the province with so many natural resources and its favorable climate and various plateau of land further enhanced its importance by producing dates, cherries, apricot, pomegranate, grapes and apples. The development of fruit farms is essential to increase fruit exports from Balochistan. Export of fruits is considered a big source of foreign exchange.
Pakistan enjoys robust position in world apple market. It is worth mentioning that a very good quality apple are available in Pakistan, 80% of which are produced in Balochistan, but unfortunately no treatment plant for their preservation was established by the successive governments in the past. The province offers access to new resources and markets and the prospect of more rapid growth. The province’s geo-strategic location makes it the most attractive for transit traffic to the landlocked Central Asian Republics (CARs) and so the development of Gwadar port would provide Afghanistan and the CARs the shortest and fastest access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. The port can also provide them with warehousing facilities along with transit and possibilities of import of goods.
Balochistan contributes 90% national production of grapes, cherry and almonds, 60% of peach, pomegranate, apricot and 34% of apple and 70% of dates. Fruit crops are grown over an area of 149,726 hectares in Balochistan and approximately 889,490 tons of production is achieved annually. Apples, almonds, grapes, apricots, peaches, plums and dates are grown over an area of 48,329 hectares; 10,621 hectares; 12,240 hectares; 109;99 hectares; 3;945 hectares; 3;872 hectares and 43;099 hectares, respectively. Fruit production in highland Balochistan, which contains south-western region, depends on the availability of groundwater.
Presently, the southwestern and eastern parts of Balochistan are facing an insurgency-like situation barring local and foreign investors to jumpstart development projects in resource-rich province. The northern Balochistan is, however, relatively calm as compared to the rest of the province. Fruit crops are grown in the northern parts of the province. Its huge yield potential of high quality deciduous fruits can efficiently be tapped by making investments in establishing ‘crop specific zone’ and ‘fruit processing units’ in the province. The key problems baring long-term investment in fruit production include shortage of irrigation water, non-availability of groundwater in highland, lack of marketing infrastructure and facilities like farm to market roads and sale centers, dearth of skilled labor and lack of technical knowledge and expertise. Investments can be made in building cold storage houses and air-conditioned transportation facilities to minimize the risks to spoilage of fruits.
There is a need to introduce high yielding, and drought and disease resistance varieties of fruits. The positive steps to increase fruit production and export from the province will increase the country’s foreign exchange reserves. The treatment plants serve the purpose of fruit preservation during off-season. The country will earn huge foreign exchange if these plants are established at different districts in coastal Balochistan.
The province is famous for its grape production of commercial varieties. The grapes are grown in bulk in Quetta, Pishin, Kalat, Zhob, Loralai and Mastung districts, which are currently facing the problem of power shortage. The acute shortage of water due to frequent power break down has been playing havoc with these fruit crops.
Efficient crop management can increase the profits of local farmers in Balochistan and decrease their costs involved in fruit production. Pre-harvest contractors and commission agents largely benefit from the fruit production and the poor farmers continue to reel under the miserable socio-economic conditions.
The small farmers have no option but the pre-harvest sale of their orchards to contractors, as they have no cold-storage facilities to save their produce. Moreover, they are unable to bear the high costs of entire marketing operation for their fruit crops. Only a few farmers with sound financial position have direct contacts with the commission agents to market their produce.
What is direly needed is to enable the farmers to sell their produce directly eliminating the role of middlemen in the marketing channel. Like wheat crop the government may fix a support price for the fruit crops setting a procurement target for the ex-harvest year and the government agencies should directly purchase the produce from the farmers at the fixed price.
The government should extend rural credits to small farmers for horticulture development in the province. The lack of finance does not enable the cash-starved small farmers to harvest and market their fruit crop and they have to sell their orchards to pre-harvest contractors, who exploit them taking advantage of their weak financial position. The small farmers’ access to loan facility should be ensured.
The government should also provide cold-storage facilities at district/tehsil level. Presently, these facilities are only available in Lahore, Karachi, Multan and other big cities of Pakistan and the small farmers are unable to bear the transportation charges. The government should also provide essential infrastructure facilities like farm to market road, regular and sustainable supply of electricity in order to enhance production and export of quality fruits.
Serious efforts need to be directed for bringing about a shift from traditional to a technology based farming system using appropriate agricultural inputs in technologically feasible and economically profitable manner. A strong agriculture research system is needed to efficiently and fully tap fruit export potential of the country’s fruit basket.
Treatment plants are essential for preservation of fruits in Balochistan, mainly the apples and dates. The provincial government and community-based organizations should play their role in eliminating the social and political barriers to attract investment from private sector in the province. They should open-handedly welcome the investment from private parties based in other provinces.
The private firms related to agri-business from other provinces have been keen to invest and set up their business in Balochistan. Unfortunately, these firms were neither encouraged by the provincial government, nor by the local communities. There are still social and political barriers hindering investment from private firms in the development of fruit farms in the province. The local people need to change their radicalist behavior and open the province for investment from domestic and foreign agri-firms.