TAPPING BALOCHISTAN'S FRUITS YIELD POTENTIAL

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
May 31 - June 6, 20
10

Known as the country's fruit basket,

Balochistan contributes 90 per cent national production of grapes, cherry and almonds, 60 per cent of peach, pomegranate, apricot and 34 per cent of apple and 70 per cent of dates. Thousands tons of apples are exported each year from Balochistan. Over 80 per cent of the quality apples are produced in the province.

Fruit crops are grown over an area of 149726 hectares in Balochistan and approximately 889490 tons of production is achieved annually. Apples, almonds, grapes, apricots, peaches, plums and dates are grown over an area of 48329 hectares, 10621 hectares, 12240 hectares, 10999 hectares, 3945 hectares, 3872 hectares and 43099 hectares, respectively. Fruit production in highland Balochistan, which contains southwestern region, depends on the availability of groundwater. The region is famous for grape production of commercial varieties such as Kishmishi and Shundokhani.

Apricot and plum are high delta fruits, which are grown in upland Balochistan. Grape is a low delta crop and may be grown in all types of climates and soils. 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 breakdown has been playing havoc with these fruit crops.

The experts believe that Balochistan's tremendous yield potential of high quality deciduous fruits can efficiently be tapped by establishing 'crop specific zone' and "fruit processing units" in the province.

Each agro-ecological zone in the province presents specific agro-climatic conditions for production of different kinds of fruits. Zoning is essential for growing different fruit crops. The experts suggest that province should be divided into zones for quality fruit production. Generally, the local growers of fruit crops do not pay heed toward zoning for growth of different fruit crops.

SOCIAL & POLITICAL BARRIERS

Balochistan has tremendous potential for development of fruit farms. 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.

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 behaviour and open the province for investment from domestic and foreign agri-firms.

Treatment plants are essential for preservation of fruits in Balochistan, mainly the apples and dates. 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 is available in Pakistan, 80 per cent of which are produced in Balochistan, but unfortunately no treatment plant for its preservation was established by the successive governments in the past.

The provincial government and community-based organisations 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.

FRUIT CROPS MANAGEMENT

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 socioeconomic 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.

The micro-irrigation systems need to be introduced widely to cope with problem of water shortage in fruit growing areas of the province.

For the last few years, the fruit crops in northern Balochistan have adversely been affected by scarcity of water, as tube wells were not operating fully and efficiently for power shortage. Trickle Irrigation System has been recognised as a method of irrigation which provides maximum possible irrigation water efficiency and which is claimed to be up to 90 per cent.

Steps should be taken to check adulteration of pesticides, as the adulterated pesticides adversely affect the quality of fruits. Local farmers particularly the growers of apple feel extremely worried about attack of mites on the crop. The mites attack the leaves of the fruit plant damaging the chlorophyll and within a short period, the entire crop is affected. The local farmers spray pesticides on the crop 4 to 8 times in a month. The affected plants do not bear quality fruits, and hence the fruits are sold at lower prices. The local farmers also complain that adulterated pesticides are available in bulk in the local market. Steps should be taken to control the prices of fertilisers and pesticides in the market.

The experts should also 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.